For the second-straight week to start the season, the Dallas Cowboys were on the road. And once again, the game came down to the final seconds. Fortunately for America’s Team, it was Dak Prescott and Greg Zuerlein getting the last opportunity to shine with the late-game heroics, and Dallas pulled off the 20-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was a game of ups and downs for the Cowboys, who welcomed Zack Martin back into the starting lineup. While some players filled in admirably for key starters who were sidelined, other starters continue to be sorely missed on this team.
Once again, Dallas won the turnover battle, and the Chargers consistently bailed them out with costly penalties. To be fair, they did force Los Angeles into numerous penalties as well.
Still, the Cowboys got a fortunate call from the refs on a sack by Micah Parsons where the referee ruled Justin Herbert down before he could throw the ball away. It wasn’t the prettiest win for Cowboys fans, but after a week in which Dallas put up a brilliant effort against the Super Bowl Champs and got a loss, America’s Team will take the win.
The Cowboys now sit tied atop the NFC East at 1-1 with the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia, who Dallas will host next week. Let’s take a look at the good and bad from their first win of the season.
Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 2 Win
The Running Game
Welcome to the party. A week ago, Kellen Moore and the offense had no interest in running the football against Tampa Bay. This week, Dallas turned it around entirely with 198 yards on 31 runs.
No, the Chargers’ run defense is nowhere near as stout as the Bucs, and it helped that Los Angeles consistently played in a two-deep look. However, players still have to execute, and that’s what Dallas did.
The offensive line was pretty darn good for most of the night, as Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard consistently had plenty of room to run. Speaking of Elliott and Pollard, this will be an intriguing combination moving forward, and it doesn’t look like the coaching staff cares about which player gets paid the most.
While Elliott had a very good performance with 71 yards and a score on 16 carries, Pollard is just so explosive when the ball is in his hands. The guy hits the hole hard and always seems to pick up those extra yards at the end of the play by falling forward.
The third-year running back out of Memphis certainly made his presence felt, closing out the third quarter with a 28-yard run around the outside before ripping off a 23-yarder two plays later. I’m not going to say he should supplant Elliott as this team’s top rusher.
Elliott is still outstanding in pass protection, and he displays excellent vision carrying the football. However, with as versatile as Pollard can be on jet sweeps and in the passing game, there is no reason we shouldn’t see the two getting equal touches as we did on Sunday (Elliott 18, Pollard 16).
Cowboys’ fans need to get used to the narrative that Moore will be one of the hotter head-coaching candidates this coming offseason. When Dallas’ offensive personnel is fully healthy, few in the NFL can match their overall talent.
Still, that’s been the case for America’s Team for some time. Yet, there have always been players like Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, Brice Butler, and Lance Dunbar that the team just couldn’t seem to get involved very often, regardless of their talent.
That is not the case with Moore and this offense this season. Everyone is touching the football on this offense, and through two weeks, they are all proving to be worthy of the opportunities.
Pollard is the most recent name that Cowboys fans have clamored for to get more touches, and he’s getting them. Dallas has two of the more underrated tight ends in the game in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, and they’ve combined for 14 catches on 16 targets in the first two weeks.
Cedrick Wilson has caught all five balls thrown his way and added a run for five yards against the Chargers. Opposing offensive coordinators have to be terrified about what this group is capable of when everyone is on the field. While Dallas is still missing a few pieces, guys are stepping up throughout the lineup.
For those who look at the box score and make an assumption on players’ performances, you won’t be impressed with what Prescott did on Sunday. Still, for the second-straight week, he was brilliant.
No, he didn’t throw the ball 58 times for 403 yards. Still, the Chargers’ defensive game plan ensured that wouldn’t be the case without Prescott putting the ball in harm’s way. With Los Angeles lining up with two deep safeties for a good portion of the night, they were practically daring the Dallas run game to beat them.
They were also sending a message with soft coverage that if the Cowboys were going to throw the football, the short part of the field was where they would find available space. Prescott quickly realized that and adjusted his mentality.
Yes, he forced one ball downfield that was off target and intercepted. Had it been accurate, it would have still hit a defender in the hands. That was all the evidence he needed that big plays were going to come on the legs of his playmakers as opposed to his arm.
The only way for a passing game to make big plays against this style of defense is to throw short with precise timing and accuracy so that the pass-catchers have time to turn upfield before the defense has closed on them. So how did Prescott really do?
On passes of 10 yards or less, he was a perfect 20-20. However, each of the seven Cowboys to make a catch produced at least one reception of more than 10 yards. Why? Because they had time to get their head turned upfield and make a tackler miss.
When Dallas found out they would be without DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory against the Chargers, they challenged their best defender to help in the effort to replace them, and he delivered. Parsons came up with an incredible seven pressures, as well as a quarterback hit and a sack.
Yes, it was coming against a reserve tackle that struggled mightily all night, but I don’t want to discredit Parson’s effort. The coaches tasked him with something that isn’t his strongest suit to help a desperate defense, and he was fantastic.
As a bonus, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were outstanding with the added workload that came with Parsons playing primarily on the edge. Vander Esch made several plays in the backfield and also forced a huge holding call that negated a touchdown. Meanwhile, Smith led the team with nine stops and did not miss a single tackle.
Special Teams Play
A week ago, I criticized their decision to kick to Jaydon Mickens. To my delight, Zuerlein boomed the ball out of the end zone this week, and while K.J. Hill was able to return Bryan Anger’s only punt, it was a foolish decision to catch the ball inside his own five-yard line.
However, one area I’m not pleased with is Dallas’ inability to be dangerous in the return game. By now, everyone is aware of how great Pollard can be.
Still, he’s consistently getting brought down inside the 25-yard line, and one holding penalty backed Dallas up to the 13 in the fourth quarter with the game tied. Teams should think twice about kicking to Pollard, but it takes the effort of all 11 players to spring a kick return for a significant gain.
On top of that, the decision to rush the punter in the second quarter cost the Cowboys big time. I’m not criticizing the idea of rushing the punter.
However, it needs to be calculated. At that time, Dallas’ offense had no problems moving the ball, and they were about to get it back with two minutes and multiple timeouts.
The Chargers weren’t in the shadow of their end zone to put additional pressure on the play’s execution, and with them getting the ball to start the second half, one last chance to add to the lead was huge. Instead, we got a roughing-the-kicker penalty that was made possible by the decision to send the house.
Yes, the Dallas defense came up with two more interceptions after picking off a pair of passes a week ago. However, this team is struggling to get stops against the pass. I know Tom Brady is Superman, and Herbert is a terrific young passer, but our defense is having issues, even when the down and distance are in our favor.
Anthony Brown gave up another touchdown on a play where he couldn’t get Mike Williams to the ground or even slow him down. Dallas got bailed out on an illegal motion penalty that had nothing to do with what would have been Herbert’s second touchdown pass at the goal line.
The Chargers also converted three of their first four third-down attempts from ten yards or more. That’s highly discouraging, no matter what the expectations are for the defense.
Part of the problem is Dallas just can’t get consistent pressure. I know this defensive line is down three starters, but we have to generate pressure on the quarterback more often. Dan Quinn did better at scheming pressure with blitzes and matchups, but a defensive coordinator can only design so many plays to manufacture a pass rush.
Eventually, the Cowboys just have to step up and be better than the man across from them. On third and long, that shouldn’t be an issue. On top of that, we are still struggling with coverage.
Hats off to Jayron Kearse, who is playing better than anyone could have expected. Still, Brown and Jourdan Lewis are the two veterans of this secondary, and they are the biggest source of its struggles. At some point, these two have to step up, or Dallas needs to go in another direction.
Late-Game Time Management
The Cowboys’ final drive to win the game was an absolute mess, and they were fortunate to have Zuerlein bail them out. To get the ball with 3:54 seconds left and have to attempt a 56-yard attempt in the final seconds is unacceptable.
I get that there were clock issues, and Dallas didn’t want to leave much if any time left like they did the week before. Still, there has to be a sense of urgency to control what we can control. If the Cowboys go down and put a touchdown on the board, the offense has done its job in a winning effort.
If there is time left over, that means the defense has to step up and preserve that lead. However, when teams start making decisions based on what they fear might happen on the next drive, it’s typically not going to end well.
Control what you can control. In that scenario, we’ve got the ball with a chance to win the game, and a touchdown is our best chance. I’ve got no problem calling run plays or slowing the tempo.
However, Dallas needed to put the focus on winning the game, and that starts with playing for the touchdown. If the circumstance eventually allows them to play for a last-second field goal, that’s great.
Still, that shouldn’t be the initial goal with 3:54 left in the game, and a 56-yard attempt is anything but the desired result in that scenario. That drive was mismanaged, and Dallas was fortunate to hit that field goal.