For much of the 2022 season, the stars seemed to align for the Cowboys as they try to finally justify the hype surrounding Dallas ahead of every NFL campaign.
The Cowboys survived an early season quarterback injury to Dak Prescott to start 4-1 with Cooper Rush in center, and have consistently shown signs since then that they are a team that has the makings of making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Prescott, after a lackluster performance upon his return from injury in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions, rediscovered the level of performance that helped him rise to the edge of the NFL’s elite at the quarterback position. The loss of Amari Cooper in a trade to the Cleveland Browns had little negative impact on the offense, with CeeDee Lamb burgeoning as the undisputed number one receiver and Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard making an explosive running back tandem.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense has often displayed its ability to derail the opposing offense through defensive line dominance and success generating takeaways, in which Dallas led the NFL with 26.
Yet their strength on that side of the ball is now worth questioning after a four-game stretch in which the Cowboys went 3-1 but saw their defensive proficiency decline significantly.
In fact, as of Week 12, the Cowboys have allowed up an average of 359.8 net yards per game. Only 10 teams have given up more in that time frame. Between Weeks 1 and 11, the Cowboys were the 9th best defense in the NFL by the same measure.
The Cowboys were able to survive their defensive decline in weeks 12 through 14, beating the New York Giants on possession and sweeping the Indianapolis Colts by an avalanche in the fourth quarter, before narrowly avoiding a humiliating loss to the Houston Texans in a game. in which they gave up 23 points to the second worst offense in the NFL for yards per game.
But their Week 15 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars was likely a harbinger of what could happen for the Cowboys in the postseason if Dan Quinn’s defense can’t get itself back on track.
Although their loss to the Jaguars was settled by a Prescott pick-six when Rayshawn Jenkins returned an overtime interception that fell into the hands of Noah Brown, it was caused by the Cowboys’ inability to kill the Jaguars after leading 27-10 in the third quarter.
Dallas gave up two 75-yard touchdown drives, capped by a 39-yard drive, to relinquish that lead in just under nine minutes of play. The Cowboys defense allowed eight explosive rushes of at least 10 yards and 11 of those passes, and were unable to preserve the lead which Prescott restored with just over three minutes left with his second touchdown pass to Brown .
Of course, the Cowboys defense got the ball back to Prescott with a forced fumble by Trevor Lawrence right after that score, and criticism of the Dallas offense for calling a shooting play to Brown on third down on the ensuing drive that fell incomplete and gave Lawrence another shot with a minute to go is well deserved.
But the offense will rarely be perfect on every drive, and what’s frustrating for the Cowboys is that this was a loss suffered during one of Prescott’s best performances of the season.
Prescott delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 27 of his 30 pass attempts. His 90% passing rate was fourth best among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts going on Monday and best for signal callers averaging at least eight aerial yards per attempt. Prescott averaged 8.33, with his impressive combination of aggression and accuracy exemplified by his perfectly placed 20-yard touchdown throw to Peyton Hendershot on a wheel drive to put the Cowboys up 14-0 in the second quarter.
In terms of turnovers, the defense offered Prescott support by producing three, and the Cowboys quarterback was not blameless in losing the original 17-point lead, throwing a third-quarter interception to Jenkins that set up Jacksonville for a touchdowns. to trim the lead to 27-24.
But the reality is that the offense scored enough runs to beat Jacksonville, and instead of supplementing that effort with a performance that frustrated the Jags and an improved Jacksonville offense, the Dallas defense instead provided a volatility that should worry a team that will almost certainly have to go on the road as a Wild Card in the NFC playoffs.
Brown’s unreliability in the clutch could be seen as a mistake justifying owner Jerry Jones’ continued apparent lobbying for the Cowboys to sign Odell Beckham Jr. for their playoff drive.
Yet the Cowboys are no wide receiver, especially one whose status in his recovery from a torn ACL remains unknown, far from winning their conference. Instead, they are apparently short on the kind of defense that can propel them to glory against opponents like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers who can hinder their offense and who they will surely need to overcome to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
With a postseason berth secured, there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful in Dallas, but there could be trouble if the Cowboys can’t stop a worrying defensive downturn.