In Mike McCarthy‘s second season with Dallas, the Cowboys got nearly a full season from Dak Prescott, went 12-5, but were bounced from the playoffs by the 49ers. Things were vastly different in 2022, McCarthy’s third season. Prescott missed five games because of a thumb injury. All of the other details were the same. The team’s performance was nearly identical. They were an above-average team on the ground and an even better team through the air on offense. That was also true in 2021. Their only difference on defense was that they mounted an elite run-stopping unit to match their already unstoppable pass-rush. In the end, a turnover-based implosion from Prescott closed out the Cowboys’ season in the Wild Card Round, one week earlier than in 2021.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 27.5 (4th)
- EPA per play: 0.03 (10th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.08 (9th)
- Passing yards per game: 219.8 (14th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.03 (12th)
- Rush yards per game: 135.2 (9th)
The Cowboys had a strong offense by most metrics but hamstrung themselves far too often to be elite. Their most obvious flaw was McCarthy’s refusal to let go of the run game or Ezekiel Elliott. Tony Pollard ranked sixth in EPA per rush attempt and third in the NFL in rushing yards over expected. Zeke was 22nd in EPA per attempt and was one of the worst backs in the league by rushing yards over expected. Despite this, Zeke out-carried Pollard 15-11 when both were active. The Cowboys exacerbated this by running at a rate six percent higher than expected. Prescott’s interception woes were another series of self-inflicted wounds. Some were his fault, but others were the result of comically unfortunate tips and drops on the part of his receivers. Pro Football Focus chartered Prescott with the 11th-highest turnover-worthy play rate. He led the NFL in interception rate by a considerable margin. These errors by the players and coaches masked any otherwise elite season from the offense, highlighted by CeeDee Lamb‘s 1,359 receiving yards amidst a breakout campaign.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.1 (5th)
- EPA per play: -0.09 (2nd)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.06 (4th)
- Passing yards per game: 200.9 (8th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.13 (4th)
- Rush yards per game: 129.3 (22nd)
The nerds suggested Dallas’s ability to make big plays would regress. That regression may come one day, but it didn’t in 2022. The Cowboys’ turnover rate held strong. They found a takeaway on 16.2 percent of their defensive drives, the highest mark of any defense. Their sack rate shot up to 8.9 percent which trailed only the Eagles. This effort was spearheaded by Micah Parsons. The second-year phenom recorded 13.5 sacks, forced three fumbles, and scored one of the Cowboys’ three defensive touchdowns. Trevon Diggs also earned his second Pro Bowl nod with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
27th, 58th, 90th, and 129th
Notable Free Agents
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects Tyron Smith back. It’s possible he still plans to negotiate a contract restructure for the left tackle. The Cowboys’ unwavering commitment to Zeke will likely keep the lumbering back around for another season as well. With the franchise tag assigned to Pollard, Dallas could continue to scale back Zeke’s role in 2023.
Michael Gallup came back from his 2021 ACL tear in Week 4 but never seemed the same. With Amari Cooper traded away last offseason, the Cowboys were forced to turn to 34-year-old T.Y. Hilton to give them a spark opposite Lamb down the stretch.
Rookie DaRon Bland put up a solid season out of the slot, but the Cowboys didn’t have a second outside corner who can match Diggs’ prowess. Anthony Brown, an impending free agent, isn’t likely to be re-signed as a starter. Dallas could be eying a cornerback as early as the first round.
After a disappointing end to the season, the Cowboys parted ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Dallas finished worst than sixth in points per game once in Moore’s four-year stint as their offensive coordinator. McCarthy made it clear after the season that philosophical differences were a driver of Moore’s departure. He said at the combine, “I just want to run the damn ball” whereas Moore is trying to “light up the scoreboard”. It’s not surprising to hear McCarthy talk like this, but it’s still jarring. If his words weren’t enough evidence that he’s stuck in the NFL’s past, McCarthy also promoted Brian Schottenheimer to offensive coordinator after the season.
Holding only their own picks and compensatory selections in the draft, Dallas isn’t projected to get a wave of high-upside rookies on the roster. The team is also at a cap deficit. They can mitigate their lack of resources by spending wisely. Their biggest needs happen to be some of the league’s most valuable positions, making their potential draft targets glaringly obvious. However, at the end of the day, their most obvious issues were in the coaching ranks. It’s up to McCarthy to prove Moore was the problem, though his comments at the combine paint a bleak picture for the Cowboys’ upcoming season.