On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams became the latest victim of the Dallas Cowboys’ stifling defense.
The Rams watched as Cowboys rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey continued his perfect season. tying the NFL record He made the most field goals without a miss, improving to 18 of 18.
But the Cowboys also unlocked another dimension to their game that they hadn’t shown this season, a dimension that, if they continue to find it, will raise their threat level even further.
Dallas’ offense was explosive. It was efficient. And instead of simply following the defense’s lead, as in previous season’s victories, the Cowboys’ offense guided the 43-20 blowout. The Cowboys racked up a season-best 387 total offensive yards in a contest that could have been more one-sided had Dallas not pulled its starters with about 12 minutes left in the game.
The Cowboys, now preparing for an important game against the Philadelphia Eagles next week, improved to 5-2. The Rams fell to 3-5 and also lost starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to a thumb injury midway through the third quarter.
The dominant day can be attributed to the connection between Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver CeeDee Lamb. Prescott completed 80.6% of passes (22 of 31) for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Despite the red zone interception tipped by tight end Sean McKeon in front of Rams safety Jordan Fuller, Prescott posted his best passer rating in more than 11 months at 133.7.
CeeDee Lamb caught 12 passes for 158 yards, both career highs in his 56-game record, including two touchdowns.
“We wanted to make sure we kept building. I think we did that today,” Prescott said. “We wanted to take a step in the passing game. I know that was a point for Mike [McCarthy] to go for a few more tries and the boys did a great job of protecting and receiving.
“In all three phases … the guys were ready to go.”
The Cowboys gained an early lead that they never lost
The first plays of the game seemed to signal a far more chaotic day for the Cowboys’ offense than was yet to unfold.
Rams linebacker Michael Hoecht took advantage of the fact that the Cowboys were fielding a backup left tackle and sacked Prescott from behind on the first play of the game. Two plays later, with the Cowboys on third-and-11, Prescott was taken down again – this time courtesy of Byron Young, who came from Prescott’s right side. A Rams penalty gave Dallas a first down. All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrapped that gift with his own sack.
Four pieces. Three bags. Lost eight net yards.
The Rams tested McCarthy’s pass-heavy game plan. But Cowboys right guard Zack Martin told his teammates, according to center Tyler Biadasz: “Keep hitting, guys. Keep hammering.”
Prescott found Lamb in the slot and positioned the receiver to carry on 11 yards after the catch, for a total of 17 and a first down. Prescott found receivers Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks for two doubles before threading an 18-yard touchdown pass between the Rams defenders and into the outstretched arms of tight end Jake Ferguson.
The altered drive — from three sacks to 10 plays, 75 yards and a touchdown — instead set the tone for the rest of the day.
“This is an example of taking one play at a time,” Prescott said. “Just take it one play at a time and get going. Don’t think about the last thing, as shitty as it was or could have been. Just move forward.
“We could have easily put our heads down after the first few games and started sulking or complaining or getting upset with ourselves. [But] We answered.”
The loss began in the first quarter when Stafford targeted receiver Cooper Kupp with a cross-body throw. But the duo miscommunicated regarding route concept, Rams head coach Sean McVay confirmed after the game. Kupp didn’t look back, let alone get into position to catch the pass, which Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland instead hauled in and returned 30 yards for his third pick 6 of the season, one shy of tying the NFL record.
The Cowboys’ defense then forced the Rams into a three-pointer when Micah Parsons swam past Rams center Coleman Shelton…which was the least punishing of three straight plays for the Rams. Because as they tried to punt, the Cowboys’ defenders broke through for a blocked punt, which was credited to defensive end Sam Williams and counted as a safety.
The kickoff attempt after that? Cowboys receiver Ka’Vontae Turpin rushed back 63 yards. Two snaps later, Prescott fired another laser through the middle of the end zone to Lamb, who deflected cornerback Derion Kendrick on his way.
“I started early and it kind of opened up the offense for us so we could dictate all the plays without any restrictions,” Lamb said. “I have the feeling that we are at our best: when we play fast and make good plays.”
The lead was comfortable enough to withstand an interception in the red zone after a pass Prescott threw into traffic that tipped into the hands of rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker but ended up with the Rams’ Fuller instead. It was comfortable enough to withstand even the Rams’ touchdowns in and out of the half.
But after Stafford found tight end Ben Skowronek for the first touchdown of his career, the Rams trailed by 18 points. So McVay, coaching in his first game since becoming a father, ran two-point conversion plays in which receiver Tutu Atwell passed to Stafford.
The play worked in a micro sense: Stafford pounced on the short pass and ensured the conversion. The Rams got two points. But they lost Stafford, who hit the ground with his thumb, which he had already hit a helmet in the game. Backup quarterback Brett Rypien played the final 26 minutes. Rypien completed 5 of 10 passes for 42 yards.
Before his exit, Stafford had completed 13 of 22 attempts for 162 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and also caught a 9-yard pass for the 2-point conversion.
“It’s definitely very difficult,” Fuller said of losing Stafford. “In my opinion, he has Hall of Fame talent, so it’s hard to lose a player like that. It’s a next man up mentality…
“His value is still very, very important to this team.”
Can the Cowboys offense replicate the explosiveness against the Eagles?
The Cowboys emerged stronger from the win and tied a franchise record with their 11th straight home win. Parsons praised the offense’s quick start — “Dak helped us create opportunities on defense,” he said — while Lamb noted that Prescott did more than just make plays.
“Everyone has a reason, but we need a why,” Lamb said. “And Dak is our why.”
The Cowboys eighth-year quarterback played his most complete game of the season, even including the interception. He threw four touchdown passes for the eighth time in his career and used his legs to pick up first downs, an offensive element the Cowboys will hopefully continue to use to keep the defense honest.
And yet Prescott didn’t cheer when he was told that Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones had deemed the performance his best game for the second straight year.
“Let’s make it three next week,” Prescott said, before agreeing, “Yeah, I have a rhythm.”
The Cowboys know they need to carry that rhythm with them to Philadelphia next week to get where they want to go.
The Eagles improved to 7-1 with a 38-31 win at the Washington Commanders on Sunday. The Cowboys can’t catch them next weekend, but a win would cut the deficit to half a game. Since September 2021, the teams have not faced each other with each of their starting quarterbacks on the field.
Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said he, Parsons and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said to each other before kickoff against the Rams: “Let’s get this game over with quickly because we know what lies ahead next week.”
And when Prescott told Jones he didn’t want to “poke the bear” by pointing out the Eagles’ bulletin board, he veered in the opposite direction.
“If you see me and a bear fighting, pour honey on me,” Prescott said. “We can nudge it. It is part of the National Football League. Whether we talk or not, we know what lies ahead.
“Big, big, big rival. Divisional game. … It’s a duel we’re looking forward to.”