Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb are white-hot. Prescott threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday in a blowout win over the New York Giants. In his last three games, Prescott has been wildly impressive, completing 80 of 110 passes (72 percent) for 1,082 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Prescott had thrown for 1,333 yards and six touchdowns in his first six starts of the season. So, in three games, he’s looked like a completely different quarterback for the Cowboys, who have averaged 38.3 points per contest in that span. In their first six games, Dallas averaged 25.6 points per game with much help from 108 combined points against the Giants, Jets, and Patriots.
The same could be said for wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Lamb caught 11 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys‘ victory over the Giants on Sunday. In his last three games, Lamb has 34 receptions for 500 yards and three touchdowns. In his previous six games, Lamb had just 34 catches for 475 yards and one touchdown.
So, what gives?
The Cowboys have finally figured out how to play complimentary football. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb are reaping the rewards.
Rico Dowdle had his best game of the season on Sunday, running for 79 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Finding the right balance between Dowdle and Tony Pollard has been challenging for the Cowboys this season. Mike McCarthy likes what he has in both backs, but meshing their styles and strengths into the game plan has been something that McCarthy failed to do early in the season.
“Any time you can have a balanced offense and your run game is going, that opens up everything else because now you’re not one-dimensional,” said wide receiver Brandin Cooks on Sunday. “The defense got to be able to cover every blade of grass. (It’s) what we talk about, so it was great to see those guys running hard today.”
The Dallas Cowboys’ running game has been mediocre at best this season, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, which ranks 21st in the NFL. Even their lead back, Tony Pollard, has only managed to average 3.9 yards per carry, ranking 25th in the league.
However, on Sunday, the Cowboys’ rushing game showed significant improvement, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. This is only the second time this season that they have managed to surpass the 5.0 yards per carry mark, with their previous high being 5.6 yards in a game against Arizona on September 24.
When Dallas decided to move on from Ezekiel Elliott during the offseason, Pollard was anointed the feature back. Pollard’s skillset doesn’t match that role, and forcing that upon him caused the Cowboys running game to stagnate this season. Which, in turn, made the play action ineffective. Dak Prescott thrives in a successful play-action offense.
“Run to set up the pass,” Prescott said after the win against the Giants. “Start it off there and I’m a guy that loves play action and it just creates favorable matchups. When you have the run game going, they’ve got to play one-on-one outside, they’ve got to get in single high. From there, the way these guys are running, the way these guys are getting open, winning their one-on-ones, makes my job a whole lot easier.”
According to PFF tracking, Dak Prescott’s play-action passes in 2022 were highly effective. He achieved a higher passing rating, big-time throw percentage, average distance of target, touchdown to interception ratio, and overall time to throw compared to his standard non-play-action passes. In 2022, Dallas used play-action on 27.2 percent of Prescott’s dropbacks, the second most in his career.
Heading into this season with Mike McCarthy taking over play-calling this season, upping the number was something the Cowboys needed to do. In fairness, they did. Before this surge, Dallas used play-action on 29 percent of Prescott’s dropbacks. But with the rushing attack failing, 29 percent of Prescott’s dropbacks weren’t fooling anyone. The increase from 2022 to October 2023 resulted in 5.4 yards per attempt for Prescott and a 1:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
A balanced and effective rushing attack makes the play-action dropbacks for Prescott practical, allowing him to take shots to guys like CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks, who both had their best games of the season by yardage on Sunday.
Is it sustainable? We’ll see. For now, Dallas has a blue print for offensive success and it’s producing stellar results.