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The Dallas Cowboys came up just short in their chance to earn a statement win against one of the league’s premier teams. In a flip of the script from the week before, Dallas was outclassed in nearly every phase of the game, committing penalties, a turnover, and allowing the Cardinals to hog the ball and put up points.
Every unit this week ranged from average to poor, despite a few inspiring individual performances. While this Dallas team can likely hang with anyone, it’s definitely concerning they haven’t found themselves on the winning side against most of the best competition they’ve faced this season.
Here’s how the Cowboys graded out in Week 17, along with the playtime percentage breakdown.
Dak Prescott – 64 snaps (100%)
On the surface, Dak Prescott’s stats aren’t too bad (24 of 38 passing for 226 yards and three touchdowns), yet the Cowboys still only had seven points entering the fourth quarter. The offense struggled over a big stretch of the game, punting four times and seemingly continually off schedule.
Prescott was able to make some plays, but missed several others, averaging just 5.95 yards per pass attempt, and seemed to have every other pass deflected at the line of scrimmage. He also committed the only turnover of the game when he fumbled with Dallas down eight in the early fourth quarter.
For the season, Dak Prescott boasts a 61.4% accuracy % (10th among QBs, min. 100 dropbacks) with a 17.5% accuracy-plus % (13th).
In Week 17, Dak posted a 54% accuracy % (18th, min. 10 dropbacks) with a 13.5% accuracy-plus % (16th). #Cowboys
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) January 3, 2022
Hopefully Prescott is able to take something from this loss going forward, because a performance similar to this one likely won’t get the job done in the playoffs.
Running Backs: D+
Dallas got virtually nothing from their run game, which earned just 45 yards overall. Prescott was the team’s leading rusher with 20, as Elliott and Pollard were held to just 16 and nine yards respectively. Elliott generated -0.57 EPA per rushing attempt, while Pollard’s output was similarly dismal at -0.58.
Pollard was able to contribute some in the passing game, catching three passes for 49 yards, but it just wasn’t a day where the running backs were able to impact the game much at all.
Wide Receivers: B
Amari Cooper – 58 snaps (91%)
CeeDee Lamb – 56 snaps (88%)
Cedrick Wilson – 30 snaps (47%)
Michael Gallup – 26 snaps (41%)
Noah Brown – 4 snaps (6%)
The play with the biggest impact on the Cowboys for the rest of the season was Michael Gallup’s ACL-tearing touchdown grab in the second quarter. A terrible end to an important walk year for Gallup, his season was limited to just nine games, 445 yards and two touchdowns. He figured to play a big role for the Dallas offense in the playoffs, who now must turn to Plan B.
Thankfully, Cedrick Wilson, the receiver who stepped up during Gallup’s initial absence, picked up right where he left off. Wilson tied for the team lead in receptions (6), recording 35 yards and scoring his fourth touchdown of the year. The Cowboys are clearly comfortable giving Wilson the opportunity to make plays, as evident by his 31-yard pass to Pollard in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson over the last two seasons: 5-for-5 passing, 111 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 158.3 passer rating.
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 4, 2022
The rest of Dallas’s vaunted receiving corps will also have to step up as well. CeeDee Lamb recorded 51 yards on three catches, while Amari Cooper only managed to bring in three of his seven targets for 18 yards and one touchdown. It’ll take more production than that in the playoffs for Cowboys to overcome the loss of Gallup.
Tight Ends: B
Dalton Schultz – 60 snaps (94%)
Jeremy Sprinkle – 11 snaps (17%)
Sean McKeon – 5 snaps (8%)
Dalton Schultz had another nice game, flexing the YAC skills on some short TE screens early in the game. He led the team in both targets (10) and receiving yards (54), his third straight game with 50+ yards.
Dallas has leaned on him heavily in recent weeks, but he figures to get at least somewhat of a break, or maybe some variety in how he’s utilized with the imminent return of TE Blake Jarwin.
The #DallasCowboys moved Blake Jarwin to their injured reserve/designated to return list on Tuesday.
Updates | @SleepNumber
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) January 4, 2022
Offensive Line: C
Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins – 64 snaps (100%)
Connor McGovern – 5 snaps (8%)
Terence Steele – 1 snap (2%)
Tyron Smith was able to return to the field after a three game absence, but his presence unfortunately did not help the play of the offensive line. Apart from the lack of any meaningful game, the offensive line was responsible for four of the Cowboys’ 10 accepted penalties.
Smith, La’el Collins and Connor Williams each were flagged for holding, while Tyler Biadasz committed a first quarter false start. The offense was already struggling enough without the OL erasing plays off the board and setting the team back further. Penalties from this group has been a lingering issue throughout the season, and one that will likely be present for Dallas’s playoff games as well.
Defensive Line: B-
DeMarcus Lawrence – 50 snaps (66%)
Randy Gregory – 46 snaps (61%)
Osa Odighizuwa – 41 snaps (54%)
Dorance Armstrong – 38 snaps (50%)
Neville Gallimore – 31 snaps (41%)
Tarell Basham – 30 snaps (39%)
Trysten Hill – 29 snaps (38%)
Carlos Watkins – 24 snaps (32%)
Chauncey Golston – 4 snaps (5%)
Despite the nice play from a few key role players, it was a step back for a defensive line which had been dominating their previous matchups. The Cowboys generated some pressure on Murray, forcing him to throw away some balls and recording four QB hits, but only Dorance Armstrong was able to bring him down for a sack.
Trysten Hill and Carlos Watkins each had some nice moments making plays in the interior, limiting Arizona RBs to short gains. However, the defense was still gashed a few times by the Cardinals run game. Arizona’s first three offensive plays were runs for 39 total yards, and three different Cardinal players had 15+ yard rushes. Murray also ran nine times for 44 total yards, which nearly matched Dallas’ team rushing total.
Micah Parsons – 75 snaps (99%)
Leighton Vander Esch – 57 snaps (75%)
Without Keanu Neal, it was up to Parsons and Vander Esch to handle most of the linebacking duties, along with a moonlighting Jayron Kearse. They were still able to hold up reasonably well despite being shorthanded.
Cowboys had three linebackers active Sunday vs. Cardinals. Only two appeared on defense: Micah Parsons (75 of 76 snaps) and Leighton Vander Esch (57). Luke Gifford focused on special teams, as S Jayron Kearse saw more work at LB than usual. pic.twitter.com/kDnVPlTIY4
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 3, 2022
Vander Esch continued his recent string of productive games, playing his best football towards the end of the season. He was the team’s leading tackler with 10 total (eight solo), while Parsons recorded two TFLs and one QB hit.
Cowboys LB Micah Parsons had no sacks Sunday vs. Cardinals. Just your standard game with a touchdown-saving tackle, two TFLs combining for minus-10 yards and a bevy of play-wrecking QB pressures, including one foiling a two-point conversion and another nearly resulting in an INT. pic.twitter.com/WCuuFMUyVa
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 3, 2022
Defensive Backs: B-
Trevon Diggs, Jayron Kearse, Anthony Brown – 76 snaps (100%)
Donovan Wilson – 50 snaps (66%)
Jourdan Lewis – 49 snaps (64%)
Malik Hooker – 35 snaps (46%)
Damontae Kazee – 30 snaps (39%)
Kelvin Joseph – 19 snaps (25%)
Similar to the defensive line, the DB group didn’t have their best game, and it made a difference in this one. The group had previously been swinging games in the Cowboys’ favor just on their ability to generate turnovers, but weren’t able to get one this week. It was just the fourth game all season in which they did not record a turnover.
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, however. One of the missed plays that hurt the most occurred in the third quarter, when Kearse’s dropped a would-be pick in the end zone. An interception there would’ve taken three points off the board, the ultimate difference in the game.
Another point of contention was the play of Trevon Diggs, who was burned early by an AJ Green double move.
When you live and die by the sword, sometimes these games happen. For a surprising defense that has been exceeding expectations and picking up the offense for a good chunk of the season, the offense wasn’t able to return the favor in Week 17.
Special Teams: C+
Luke Gifford, Darian Thomson – 23 snaps (88%)
Nahshon Wright – 22 snaps (85%)
Chauncey Golston, Corey Clement, C.J. Goodwin, Noah Brown – 18 snaps (69%)
Malik Turner – 14 snaps (54%)
Jeremy Sprinkle, Sean McKeon – 13 snaps (50%)
Kelvin Joseph – 12 snaps (46%)
Leighton Vander Esch – 11 snaps (42%)
Dorance Armstrong – 10 snaps (38%)
The missed 43-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein in the first quarter, his sixth miss of the season, was another huge play that came back to bite Dallas in the end.
The Cowboys special teams unit also let them down by letting Arizona convert a 4th and 2 on a fake punt, when DB Chris Banjo completed the first pass attempt of his career 23-yards down field through a Nahshon Wright pass interference penalty. Of course, the Cardinals were able to finish that drive with a touchdown, making it a 10-0 game.
It's been 24 hours and still have no idea how @AZCardinals RB Jonathan Ward made this helmet catch.
Catch of the year? pic.twitter.com/HQvWIQCTMZ
— NFL (@NFL) January 3, 2022
CJ Goodwin did have a special teams tackle, bringing down WR Christian Kirk for a -5 yard return at the Arizona 9, after a booming 57-yard Bryan Anger punt. But unfortunately, winning the field position battle wasn’t enough this week.
To say the least, it wasn’t Mike McCarthy’s best game at the helm. He was out-coached by Kliff Kinsbury and knew it, induced into burning timeouts and leaving him with none when it mattered most.
Tough luck for the Cowboys
The refs missed a delay of game and fumble, but the Cowboys couldn’t challenge it because they were out of timeouts. pic.twitter.com/xQrEAONtvZ
— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 3, 2022
McCarthy deserves a ton of credit for bringing this Cowboys team this far, but for better and for worse, he seems to be who he is on gamedays.
Mike McCarthy always coaches like he just ate a huge meal ten minutes before kickoff
— BUM CHILLUPS AKA SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) January 3, 2022