ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys opened their home slate for the 2023 season with a 30-10 rout of the New York Jets. After beating the Giants last week, the Cowboys double-dipped on the league’s New York teams to start the year at 2-0.
This is how the Cowboys drew up wins in the offseason: Have the offense give the team the lead before allowing the defense to take over and engage with their opportunistic nature.
To accomplish that goal in Week 2, head coach Mike McCarthy took an unorthodox path, winning the coin toss and electing to receive.
Conventional wisdom in the NFL states that, if you win the toss, electing to kick and then receive the ball to start the second half gives you the ability to have possession with more information at your disposal.
But McCarthy went in a different direction on Sunday, eyeing an early lead to make a statement. The call paid off. If the Cowboys wanted to get an early advantage and make the Jets chase points with a mistake-prone quarterback, they succeeded.
After that decision, quarterback Dak Prescott took the confidence from his head coach and drove the offense down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession. The Cowboys never gave up the lead from there. It was 10-0 early with Prescott managing the new offense to perfection, hitting on his first 13 passes, which included completing his first six third down throws.
Just as it was in Week 1, Prescott produced an efficient effort from the passing game, albeit not a gaudy one. Without speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was out with a knee injury, the offense resorted to short passes, occasionally taking an intermediate throw to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Prescott to Lamb was a duo that connected 11 times for 143 yards to burn the Jets and their top-notch secondary.
Prescott threw for 255 yards and two scores -- both to tight ends -- while completing over 81% of his passes. No, that won’t earn him any Player of the Week honors but it was exactly what the Cowboys needed. The Jets’ formidable front on defense was a reason for the quick throws, and Prescott happily took the easy passes to help move the chains.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys discovered that it would be tough sledding in the running game, but still managed 134 yards on the ground, led by Tony Pollard’s 72 yards on a career high 25 carries.
On the other side of the ball, it was the team's defensive work against the run that might have been the most impressive aspect from this contest. The Jets have a great tandem at running back, but the Dallas defense held the Jets to just 64 yards on the ground. And most of that damage was done by quarterback Zach Wilson, who scrambled his way to 36 yards after being forced back into starting duty following the season-ending injury to Aaron Rodgers in Week 1.
With Wilson finding limited success while running away from pressure, New York running backs Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook managed a paltry 16 yards on eight carries, which made it tough for the Jets to move the ball.
The Cowboys D set the tone early with a sack by edge rusher Micah Parsons on the first defensive series. The unit would eventually book three sacks on the day while hounding Wilson into making mistakes.
With the offense continuing to put up points on the board, it forced the Jets to play catchup, which was the exact recipe that Dallas was hoping to cook up for the backup Wilson.
The Cowboys then officially broke the game open in the third quarter when Parsons forced a fumble and recovered it himself. That turnover led to a Brandon Aubrey field goal to give the Cowboys a 14-point lead and the defense would do the rest.
Better yet, three of the last four Jets series would end in interceptions by the Cowboys, who forced four more turnovers in this game.
The Cowboys knew if they got a lead, they could force the Jets and Wilson into turnovers, and it worked exactly how the team planned.
However, it should be said: The Cowboys weren’t perfect in victory. The offense had too many drives that stalled out in the red zone, converting on just two of their six trips inside the 20-yard line. That’s something that the team will need to work on going forward as turning potential touchdowns into three points won’t cut it against better teams.
On the bright side, the lack of success of getting the ball in the end zone allowed kicker Brandon Aubrey to earn more of the teams’ trust. The rookie made all five of his field goal attempts in the game, including a pressure kick from 55 yards out. If Aubrey was a question mark heading into the game, he acquitted himself well in the win.
So while Dallas might not have been perfect, the game followed the Cowboys’ script perfectly.
The team didn’t think Wilson and the Jets could keep up with them offensively, and all they had to do was get a lead and force them to have to make big plays from behind. McCarthy showed faith in his offense to give the defense something to work with, and both sides of the ball delivered.
Dallas is now 2-0 for the first time under McCarthy and have outscored their opponents by a margin of 70-10.
Against the Jets, the Cowboys picked up where they left off last week, where they were efficient on offense and the defense dropped the hammer on another unsuspecting team from New York.
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere... right?
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