The 2023 Dallas Cowboys experience remains a roller coaster, but across the last four weeks the inclines and declines have started to become noticeably less jarring, something their 5-3 record indicates. Since a soul-sucking 42-10 loss at the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys have played mostly high-level football with wins in two of their last three games since: a 20-17 win at the Los Angeles Chargers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 6, a 43-20 domination of the Los Angeles Rams at AT&T Stadium in Week 8 (following a Week 7 bye) and a near-win in a 28-23 defeat at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9.
Almost knocking off the NFL-best 8-1 Eagles in Philadelphia in on a fourth-and-goal pass from quarterback Dak Prescott to second-round rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker, missed a critical two-point conversion by a step and came up just yards short of the end zone on the game's final play shows the Cowboys can hang with the defending NFC champions.
Cowboys this season
|Week 5 at 49ers
** Chargers, Rams, Eagles
Here's a look at where the Cowboys stand through the season's first half.
"I'll say this, I felt last week [against the Rams] we kind of turned the corner," Dallas Cowboys head coach McCarthy said postgame Sunday after the team's loss at the Eagles. "I am a huge believer in you get what you put into it, whether it's life or in the game of football. I thought our team really hit their stride going into last week's game. Played well, did it again this week, came in here expecting to play well and win. So as long as we stay after that, there's an ebb and flow in every game, but there's a vibe that gets created when you get into a routine and you start building that momentum and so forth, and that's why a win tonight would have been excellent because you get a nice chunk of confidence coming out of these wins. But we know who we are. There's no excuses. We needed to make one more play tonight and we didn't do that."
Even though the Cowboys' offense struggled to maintain consistency during the first quarter or so of 2023, Dallas has since stabilized its attack following the embarrassment against the 49ers, playing like a top 10 offense in nearly every key metric as evidenced below.
Cowboys offense this season
|Air Yards/Pass Att
|Third Down Pct
|Red Zone TD Pct
|Time of Possession
* Ranks 16th or worse in NFL
** Top 10 in NFL
The reason for the uptick in the Cowboys' offensive production over the last four weeks of NFL action is rather simple: Dallas head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy empowered his top offensive players, quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, by playing to win football games instead of playing not to lose them.
Following the loss at the 49ers, Lamb, who totaled four catches for 49 receiving yards, said "I don't know" three times postgame when asked what the Cowboys' offensive identity was. McCarthy's answer at the time was even more jarring: he said the offense was about time of possession and saving the defense.
"When we started this offensive approach back in April, I just think it's a matter of: Who do you want to be and who do you think you are? I coached a team [the Green Bay Packers] for a lot years that was offensive driven," McCarthy said. "But this team is about defense. Let's make no bones about it. That's not a slight against the offense. We want to score as many points as everybody and we're not playing not to lose, so don't mix the message here. But we play to our defense. That's the strength of our team. And by doing that, the time of possession, taking care of the football, those are two things that I thought were improvements from past years, the first month. Clearly, it was not [versus the 49ers]."
Now, the emphasis and rhetoric has flipped in Dallas' favor since as the metrics above indicate. The Cowboys' rushing rate has dropped nearly 10 percentage points from 47.1% in Weeks 1-5 to 37.6% in Weeks 6-9. As a result, Dallas has become a top 10 scoring and total offense over the last four weeks because their offense is now, in the words of Lamb after the team's 43-20 Week 8 win over the Rams, "." Lamb is far and away the best playmaker at McCarthy's disposal, and his numbers since Week 6 indicate he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL: his 466 receiving yards in this stretch lead the entire NFL despite Lamb playing three games since Week 6 thanks to a Week 7 bye. Lamb has over 100 receiving yards in each of his last three games, including setting and resetting his career-high in receiving yards in each of the last two weeks. He totaled 117 yards on seven catches at the Chargers, 158 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 12 catches against the Rams and 191 receiving yards on 11 catches at the Eagles.
CeeDee Lamb since Week 6, NFL ranks
Team Target Pct
* Played only three of a possible four games in span because of Week 7 bye
"It's a credit to CeeDee first and foremost," Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Monday. "Since he came out with his frustration, whatever game that was [the Cowboys' 42-10 loss at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5], he has put the work in on the practice field, and he's just worked with a different intentionality, a different intensity in practice. It's been awesome to see. I remember the first practice after, I can't remember the game you guys might remember, but again just every rep was like full-speed. Competitive drills were unbelievable. It's a credit to him. The timing and stuff with Dak has been awesome. We try to move him around and put him in different spots. You'll see him isolated [out wide], you'll see him in the slot, you'll see him in the backfield, and that's all part of the game plan. That speaks to his football IQ. The guy gets football. You talk to him on the sidelines, and he knows what's going on. He knows where his help is coming from. He knows 'hey, yeah I can win that route, this guy has been playing outside leverage.' When we have conversations on the sideline when the drive is over, he's a great guy to talk to because the feedback that he gives you is usually dead on. Each week is different. I'm certainly aware that that production makes people want to stop him but they have to stop him. He has such a great feel with Dak that even when he is covered, he's not really covered. Because we can throw the ball in certain spots. That's when you have that me-you factor where yeah he is covered or he is doubled, but it doesn't matter, I'm going to throw it to a certain spot."
"He [Lamb] is an extremely gifted athlete, but I just love his tenacity for the football," McCarthy said Monday. "He goes and excels to go get the football. His yards after the catch is primo. You tend to forget he was a punt returner for us in his rookie year. He is complete. He has an excellent catching radius, excellent hands. Getting out of breaks to get on top of vertical balls. He is playing extremely well right now."
McCarthy also affirmed Prescott's offensive empowerment over the last few weeks as he has over 300 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in each of the Cowboys' last two games versus the Rams and at the Eagles.
"He [Prescott] owns it [the offense]," McCarthy said on Monday. He is in total command of it. Growing through the ebbs and flows of the games creates a pattern to grow through the season. I think if you look at the way our season went in the first six weeks up to now what we have done the last couple weeks, he definitely has total control of the offense."
Thanks to the last few weeks, Prescott's 2023 full-season production has earned him a spot comfortably inside the top 10 list for best quarterbacks in the league. The only reason Dallas' offensive grade isn't higher is because they took five or six weeks to realize it was best to feature Prescott and Lamb.
Dak Prescott this season
The heartbeat of the Cowboys is two-time All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons as he and the rest of the team's pass rush sets the tone for what kind of game the team is going to play in pretty much every week. Parsons remains one of the NFL's best at getting after the quarterback. His 49 quarterback pressures are the second-most in the NFL behind Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby's 53 while Parsons' 22% quarterback pressure percentage leads the NFL among those with 200 or more pass rushes this season. His 7.5 sacks are tied for the ninth-most in 2023. Dallas as whole remains the league's best unit at pressuring opposing quarterbacks (48.2% pressure rate), but some deficiencies remain in the run game thanks to playing with speedier, smaller linebackers like -- who is Pro Football Focus' 10th-highest graded linebacker (82.5 defensive grade) this season despite formally being a defensive back -- because of injuries to Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarvion Overshown. Also, more of their pressures could be converted into sacks.
The passing defense, despite the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, remains a bright spot. That is thanks to Stephon Gilmore, the 33-year-old 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year whose 56.3 passer rating allowed as the primary defender in coverage is tied for the eighth-lowest in the league among 40 players with 45 or more passes thrown their way, and second-year, fifth-round pick cornerback , who has on the outside in Diggs' absence. Bland's 21.7 passer rating in coverage this season is the best in the NFL among the 40 players with 45 or more passes thrown their way.
He already has a Cowboys record three pick-sixes this season, more pick-sixes this season than Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders had in his five seasons (1995-1999) with the Cowboys (two). During Sanders' lone NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 1994 with the San Francisco 49ers, he totaled three interception-return touchdowns in 14 games played. Bland's nine interceptions lead the NFL since his debut in 2022, four of which have come in 2023. His four interceptions are tied for the second-most in the league this season behind Ravens defensive back Geno Stone's six.
Bland (42.6% completion percentage allowed) and Gilmore (45.8% completion percentage allowed) also rank first and second in the NFL in completion percentage allowed this season among the 40 players with 45 or more passes thrown their way, giving defensive coordinator Dan Quinn difference makers at the front and back of his sixth-ranked scoring defense.
"I have all the trust in the world in our outside guys [Gilmore and Bland]," Quinn said Monday. "They're strong, capable and ready with all their stuff."
Cowboys defense this season
Total YPG Allowed
Rush YPG Allowed
Pass YPG Allowed
3rd Down Pct Allowed
Red Zone TD Pct Allowed
QB Pressure Rate
|Passer Rating Allowed
Special teams: A+
The special teams unit was one of the more worrisome components of the Cowboys a season ago after veteran kicker Brett Maher got the yips. However, NFL rookie Brandon Aubrey, who McCarthy has likened to a "young Mason Crosby" -- the Green Bay Packers all-time leading scorer that McCarthy coached for over a decade -- has been .
He has drained all 19 of his field goal attempts in 2023, giving him.
Most field goals made without missing to start NFL career
|MADE FIELD GOALS WITHOUT MISSING TO START CAREER
|DAL Brandon Aubrey
CLE Travis Coons
WAS Kai Forbath
CLE Austin Seibert
* Streak currently active
The rookie has also been excellent on kickoffs as he leads the league with 46 touchbacks on 49 kickoffs. Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger's 44.6 net yards per punt rank third in the NFL, and Pro Bowl returner KaVontae Turpin's 190 kickoff return yards are the eighth-most in the league. Add that all up and that makes special teams the Cowboys' best unit so far in 2023.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and special teams coordinator John "Bones" Fassel have been strong all year, consistently coaxing solid production form their units for the majority of the 2023. Quinn's unit creating another Pro Bowl cornerback out of a second-year, fifth-round pick in Bland is a job well done. Fassel taking Aubrey, a 28-year-old rookie who was formerly an MLS soccer player and a USFL kicker, and having him on the best stretch to start an NFL kicking career all-time is marvelous work.
The only reason Dallas' coaching staff couldn't have a letter grade in the A's at the moment is because of how much hand-wringing and lack of featuring the best players went on in Mike McCarthy's offense through the first five weeks of the season. Obviously, he has swiftly turned the unit around across the last four weeks. If this level of play continues, there's no reason why the Cowboys coaching staff can't have a mark in the A's next time around.