Position grades, snap counts from Cowboys dominant dispatching of Tampa Bay

The Dallas Cowboys delivered one of their best performances of the season in Monday night’s wild-card round win. They shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half before sealing the victory early in the fourth quarter. The 31-14 final, impressive on its own, may not accurately portray the dominance Dallas displayed in what could’ve been Tom Brady’s final game.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was the star of the show, delivering a signature performance, but it was a team effort to exorcise the team’s road playoff curse with their first such win since 1993. With the San Francisco 49ers next on the menu, here’s the positional and coaching grades from the Cowboys excellence after worries in Week 18 seem eons in the past.

QB: A+

 

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Dak Prescott: 69 snaps, 100%

What more could one have asked from Prescott? The ghosts of his promise to Brady over a year ago, the deceptive league-leading interceptions and his worst performance of the year in a meaningless regular-season finale created narratives.

Narratives that were vaporized when Prescott delivered 25-for-33 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns as the first Dallas quarterback to throw for as many scores in the playoffs. On top of that, he added some timely scrambles and a rushing touchdown to boot.

The first two drives were raided by dropped passes and a sack by Vita Vea, but four-straight scoring drives buried the game quickly. If Prescott carries this momentum into San Francisco, the Cowboys’ aspirations can keep climbing. For now, bravo.

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RB: B

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Tony Pollard: 40 snaps, 58%
Ezekiel Elliott: 33 snaps, 48%
Malik Davis: 1 snap, 1%

Back in September, the Buccaneers stonewalled the Dallas offense and the run game never got a chance to shine. This time, early success paved the way for Pollard and Elliott to do the dirty work without extra pressure. The former played even better than has 15 carries for 77 yards shows, delivering a career-high in missed tackles.

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Alongside Pollard’s elusiveness, Elliott did what he does best. He had 13 carries for 27 yards, but four of those were first-down conversions and that’s his calling card while Pollard’s stock as a whole continues to rise. Taking on a prolific 49ers defense in the divisional round, a reliable run game would calm things down and 3.7 yards per carry as a team is a number the Cowboys would like to improve on.

WR: B+

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CeeDee Lamb: 58 snaps, 84%
Michael Gallup: 46 snaps, 67%
Noah Brown: 26 snaps, 38%
TY Hilton: 25 snaps, 35%
KaVontae Turpin: 2 snaps, 3%

While the tight ends were the main weapons in Tampa Bay, the receivers did their job and then some to help Prescott deliver a statement game. Lamb had 4 catches for 68 yards and probably the easiest touchdown of his career thanks to a beautiful Kellen Moore play design.

On the other side, Gallup exploited soft coverage and showed off his field awareness on his touchdown grab in the third quarter.

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The pair of Hilton and Brown combined for four catches for 41 yards and complimented the main weapons well throughout the night. When the unit had to make plays, they stepped up and it was refreshing to see receivers in space instead of Prescott forcing into clogged areas like we’ve seen him have to often this season. Does it get much easier than this?

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TE: A

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Dalton Schultz: 61 snaps, 88%
Jake Ferguson: 31 snaps, 45%
Peyton Hendershot: 9 snaps, 13%
Sean McKeon: 8 snaps, 12%

The chemistry between Prescott and Schultz has never been a question and it was on full display against the Buccaneers. The franchise-tagged tight end led the Cowboys receiving with seven catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. The second score was on an extended play, and the confidence Prescott had to make the cross-body throw doesn’t come without his belief in Schultz.

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What’s interesting about Schultz’s success is the looming decision for Dallas. Ferguson had a 34-yard gain on an impressive YAC play and while the pair of McKeon and Hendershot didn’t get in on the fun, they’ve shown the poise to rise to the occasion.

The price tag for Schultz and the promise of the young players makes it a tough decision whenever free agency arrives. As it stands, Schultz is earning money this postseason and his continued efficiency is one of the keys to the Cowboys’ success.

OL: B+

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Tyler Biadasz: 69 snaps, 100%
Tyron Smith: 69 snaps, 100%
Tyler Smith: 69 snaps, 100%
Zack Martin: 69 snaps, 100%
Connor McGovern: 41 snaps, 59%
Jason Peters: 33 snaps, 48%

Throughout this season, the Cowboys offensive line has had to adjust to injuries at almost every position. When Terence Steele’s season was ended prematurely, the return of Tyron Smith was welcomed but he wasn’t perfect…until this week. Even then, the younger Tyler Smith stole the spotlight with his best game as a rookie playing left tackle and left guard due to Peters going down in the first half.

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Martin was his dominant self as always and the return of Biadasz gave Prescott much more confidence in his protection and the single sack from Vita Vea on the second drive was the only blemish against a strong unit. The run game could’ve been more efficient but that’s pulling hairs considering the fort that was built in pass protection.

DL: A

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Micah Parsons: 79 snaps, 96%
Dorance Armstrong: 49 snaps, 60%
Demarcus Lawrence: 46 snaps, 56%
Osa Odighizuwa: 45 snaps, 55%
Dante Fowler: 29 snaps, 35%
Sam Williams: 26 snaps, 32%
Chauncey Golston: 26 snaps, 32%
Johnathan Hankins: 20 snaps, 24%
Carlos Watkins: 18 snaps, 22%

Brady was under duress all night in the Week 1 opener, especially from Parsons. Since he lined up mostly as a pass rusher Monday, he’ll be considered a defensive lineman but his real role on the night was game-wrecker.

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The Buccaneers’ rushing game only mustered 52 yards on the night as a result of the early success for Dallas and that allowed Parsons and company to go to work. Brady was pressured 19 times and Dan Quinn only dialed up six blitzes in the contest so the front four for the Cowboys was having no problems.

Parsons was efficient all night and even drew a holding call early in the game, something he should, but doesn’t get often. Looking forward, getting into the face of the young Brock Purdy is key and could force some mistakes from the otherwise impressive rookie.

LB: A

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Leighton Vander Esch: 72 snaps, 88%
Anthony Barr: 56 snaps, 68%
Luke Gifford: 2 snaps, 2%

The Cowboys desperately missed Vander Esch last week and he played lights out in Tampa Bay. A team-leading nine total tackles and two pass deflections on the night doesn’t begin to describe how well he played. Since injuries have slowed his rise, some questioned if he could find the trajectory he had during his rookie season. It’s safe to say he’s back.

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Barr has been a sore spot on the defense but put together a strong game in his Cowboys playoff debut including a tackle for loss. It was a two-man show with Vander Esch and Barr that worked nicely throughout the game but adding Damone Clark and his insane athleticism to the fold may help against the 49ers.

CB: B-

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

DaRon Bland: 82 snaps, 100%
Trevon Diggs: 82 snaps, 100%
Israel Mukuamu: 37 snaps, 45%
Xavier Rhodes: 24 snaps, 29%

Considering the poor tackling performance from Diggs and how the pair of Bland and Rhodes got beat deep even if they weren’t punished for it, one might expect this grade to be lower. Enter Mukuamu, who spent the regular season as a reserve safety but was a cornerback during his time at South Carolina. The third cornerback spot was a worry headed into the playoffs but Mukuamu shined in the slot with a wicked 6-foot-4 frame that is rare in the spot.

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The Buccaneers’ offense hasn’t been very strong all year and San Francisco’s weapons are much more threatening for this unit. Nonetheless, Mukuamu’s physicality will pay dividends and it’s a huge step to have consistency in the spot for the Cowboys.

S: A-

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Malik Hooker: 82 snaps, 100%
Donovan Wilson: 82 snaps, 100%
Jayron Kearse: 42 snaps, 51%
Markquese Bell: 2 snaps, 2%

While Mukuamu transitions to the cornerback spot, the safety room is alive and well in Dallas. The captain Kearse collected an easy interception from Brady and the three-headed monster with Hooker and Wilson is just fun for Quinn to build around.

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Wilson has an edge to his game that builds the Cowboys’ intensity and it’s always a message when he’s heading downhill to deliver a hit. There was a bit of worry when Kearse suffered a knee injury, but he’s expected to be good-to-go when the team takes the trip to San Francisco.

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Special Teams: F

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Yikes. Kicker Brett Maher delivered his best season in 2022 and a missed extra point in Week 18 didn’t seem to matter. Fast forward a week and he had four ugly misses on extra points and that’s never a good sign with a kicker when it appears to be affecting him mentally. Dallas hasn’t shown their cards on if another kicker is expected to enter the building, but it may be worth the look.

On top of the kicking nightmare, Noah Brown muffed the ball on an onside kick to give Tampa Bay the ball late even if it didn’t matter. Let’s just burn the tape and hope John Fassel’s unit steps up in the divisional round, because a performance like this could cost them the game.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire