Well-rounded Cowboys offense begins with efficient Dak Prescott

Sep 22, 2023, 2:15 PM | Updated: 4:16 pm

TEMPE — The Dallas Cowboys defense needs no introduction given its early dominance two games into the regular season. It’s currently the darling of the franchise and the NFL.

But while the offense isn’t leading most statistical categories like its counterpart, the unit led by quarterback Dak Prescott still has plenty of firepower for an Arizona Cardinals defense down a couple of starters to contend with.

Excluding the San Francisco 49ers, who played on Thursday night, the Cowboys pace the league in points per game with 35 and feature a top 10 rushing attack.

“(Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy’s) been doing it a long time, going all the way back to San Francisco and Green Bay,” head coach Jonathan Gannon said Wednesday. “His impact on the offense (can be seen). Even when (now-Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore) was calling it, but now with him taking over the play-calling duties and (Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) is really bright.

“They’re a good offense. They’ve got a lot of skill. They distribute the ball evenly, they mix the run and pass game, they give you different play types, so it’s going to be a big-time challenge.”

Let’s start with running back Tony Pollard, shall we?

The running back enters the Week 3 tilt 10th in the NFL in rushing yards (142) and is one of 12 NFL rushers with multiple scores (two) on the ground in 2023. He also trails only wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in receiving yards (49) and catches (nine) two games in.

Pollard is about as elusive as they come and has a clear runway as Dallas’ unquestioned starting option on the ground following the departure of former starter Ezekiel Elliott this offseason.

“Explosive, he’s always been very explosive,” defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday. “He can hit you with a home run.

“You can’t let him get through to the second, third level, because he can take it the distance. He’s doing a good job right now toting the load.”

And just because Prescott’s output doesn’t jump off the page — 22nd in the league in total yards thrown (398) and tied for 15th in touchdowns (two) — doesn’t mean he’s not putting the unit in the best spot to take home the victory.

Right now, it’s all about where Prescott isn’t putting the football on top of his overall skillset.

“Dak can beat you dropping back, he can beat you throwing quick game, he can beat you play action boot, throwing in the pocket, throwing out of the pocket, throwing on time, not on time, extending plays. That’s hard to defend,” Rallis said.

“When people aren’t one-dimensional, (you have to) pick your poison. … Dak is well-rounded, he’s playing really efficient right now and that offense is rolling. His versatility and decision-making right now is leading to them playing good on offense.”

Entering Week 3 play, Prescott is one of just seven starting signal callers yet to throw an interception two games into 2023. He’s completed 71% of his passes, good enough for eighth in the NFL.

As we all saw last season — 15 picks across 12 games played — turning the ball over was one of Prescott’s biggest issues at the helm. In the 10 games he threw at least one pass to the wrong team, Dallas was 6-4. On the flip side, the Cowboys won both contests when Prescott didn’t toss a pick.

Forcing Prescott to make those type of mistakes is priority No. 1 for the Cardinals on Sunday.

One way to accomplish that is by turning up the pressure early and often from a pass-rushing standpoint, which could very well be the case with injuries affecting Dallas’ starting offensive line ahead of Sunday. Losing center Tyler Biadasz (hamstring) would be particularly rough for the Cowboys given his role of calling out protections and making sure the line is set.

Sacks are always nice, but even getting Prescott off schedule and out of the pocket could pay dividends for a Cardinals defense that has proven it can get to — or at the very least impact — the quarterback through two weeks.

That job falls largely on the outside linebackers room led by Zaven Collins and Dennis Gardeck.

Gardeck has gotten home more than any other Cardinal this season, registering three sacks across the first two matchups.

Collins meanwhile has had a knack for taking the ball away, recording an interception and fumble recovery in addition to adding a half sack and a pass defensed.

And if Step 1 is getting under Prescott’s skin behind the line of scrimmage, Step 2 centers around Arizona’s secondary sticking to Dallas pass catchers like glue and ultimately making a play when the time comes.

Keeping Lamb in check is a great start at achieving the latter.

Lamb is far and away the Cowboys’ biggest target this season, reeling in 15 of his 17 targets for 220 yards. He’s accounted for 10 first downs and 103 yards after the catch, both team highs.

“The main thing for me is recognizing some of the formations that they like to do and then we’re just going to focus on us,” rookie cornerback Kei’Trel Clark said Thursday.

“That’s the game plan this week, really focus on us, focus on the little details and things and making sure we’re keyed in on our checks and everything we’re doing.”

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Well-rounded Cowboys offense begins with efficient Dak Prescott