Dallas Cowboys Offense Is in Shambles and It Could Cost Them the NFC East

Brent SobleskiSeptember 12, 2022

AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

Dennis Houston started at wide receiver Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys.

Who? Don't feel bad if you don't recognize the name of an undrafted rookie free agent from an FBS program (Western Illinois) who caught two passes for 16 yards in his first NFL game. His inclusion into the lineup serves as a microcosm for much bigger problems.

The previous statement isn't a slight against Houston. He earned his roster spot. Nonetheless, the fact the Cowboys are in the position they are with significant roster deficiencies could limit the offense's capabilities for the entire 2022 campaign.

Dallas lost 19-3 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium. The Bucs scored their only offensive touchdown in the third quarter, and the deficit felt insurmountable at that point.

In fact, the Cowboys managed a paltry 160 yards with seven minutes left to play before entering garbage time. In total, the anemic unit finished with 244 total yards.

A lack of weapons on the outside and explosive playmakers, a ramshackle offense line, and a new injury to quarterback Dak Prescott will make any type of run at back-to-back division titles nearly impossible.

The final point will be the most difficult aspect to overcome. As if things weren't bad enough during a game in which nothing went right for Dallas' offense, Prescott injured his hand during the team's pitiful attempt at a comeback.

The 29-year-old veteran immediately pulled himself from the game and went to the locker room. Owner Jerry Jones told reporters that the quarterback will be out at least "several weeks" because he needs surgery.

"It's above the thumb, back behind the joint," Jones said before adding, "We'll have to have Cooper [Rush] step up. He'll get all the reps, and we'll go from there."

The quarterback kept everything in perspective.

"Obviously, it's not what you want to hear. It's not the worse thing that's happened to me," Prescott said. "It's just another bump in the road."

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott injures his hand during Sunday's contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Without Prescott for an extended period, all of the other issues within the lineup become magnified. Last season's No. 1 ranked offense was already a shell of itself, thanks to the team's offseason maneuvering.

The Cowboys were well in the red when the offseason began, needed to make moves and couldn't re-sign a few key contributors. The organization traded four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round draft pick and a swap of sixth-round selections because the team couldn't afford his $20 million salary-cap hit this season.

Fellow wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. and left guard Connor Williams, who proved to be key contributors, left in free agency. The front office released right tackle La'el Collins, too.

Prescott had been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the last two seasons. In fact, the Cowboys quarterback averaged 300.2 passing yards per contest during his previous 21 appearances.

Even he struggled with what Dallas put on the field Sunday. He completed only 14 of 29 passes with an average of 4.6 yards per pass attempt.

CeeDee Lamb managed two catches for 29 yards on 11 targets. The combination of Noah Brown and tight end Dalton Schultz combined for 140 yards on 12 receptions, but neither is a true downfield threat to opposing defenses. Houston and Simi Fehoko totaled four catches and averaged a paltry seven yards per reception.

"We just got to be better," Lamb stated when informed of Prescott's injury.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Eventually, Michael Gallup will return to the lineup. The Cowboys signed the receiver to a five-year, $57.5 million contract extension this offseason, even after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 17 of last season.

Gallup practiced for the first time this past week. He still doesn't have a firm timetable for his return, but the team is excited about where he is in his recovery.

"I thought his workout was excellent, really, the past two days," head coach McCarthy told reporters Thursday. " … He has checked every box all the way along. … We are very encouraged by the work."

James Washington, meanwhile, is dealing with a foot injury. The free-agent acquisition expects to make his debut in Week 5 or 6, according to the Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins.

Even with Gallup and Washington, a Prescott-less offense provides little hope for success, mainly because of the limitations now found at the quarterback position and the current state of the team's front five.

Tyron Smith's injury created a ripple effect among the group. The long-time anchor to the once Great Wall of Dallas suffered an avulsion fracture of the knee during a preseason practice, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

A December return may be possible, but no sooner. As a result, the Cowboys signed the 40-year-old Jason Peters. Peters wasn't ready for the season-opener, though.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

First-round rookie Tyler Smith bumped out to left tackle after primarily practicing at left guard since being drafted. Smith held his own, but the move created other problems.

The Buccaneers attacked the interior after Connor McGovern left the game with a high-ankle sprain. McGovern is expected to miss a few weeks as well. Backup Matt Farniok looked outmatched throughout the contest.

At right tackle, Terence Steele committed four penalties, including three false starts (in his home stadium) and holding.

Zack Martin is the lone reliable piece up front, and the unit is a far cry from the days when it regularly dominated in the trenches.

Issues and injuries aside, the loss already places the Cowboys a game back behind everyone else in the NFC East. The New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders all found ways to win Sunday.

Brian Daboll played to win with his decision to go for two with just over a minute remaining in New York's contest with the Tennessee Titans. The victory had the club and its new head coach dancing in the locker room.

The Philadelphia Eagles pounded their way to 216 rushing yards, and A.J. Brown looked like the No. 1 wide receiver the offense previously lacked. Carson Wentz may have found new life in Washington with the Commanders, where he threw four touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The defense could be Dallas' saving grace. Well, maybe. The Buccaneers manhandled the Cowboys in the trenches, particularly along the interior. Leonard Fournette gashed Dallas for 127 yards at six yards per carry. But Demarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs are difference-makers.

Plenty of unfamiliar faces will be called upon to lead the Cowboys through the next portion of this season. Are they up to the task? Unlikely. Even when the team is fully healthy to possibly get back on track, the effort will almost certainly be too little, too late.

January may be a long way away, but the Cowboys are clearly a worse team today than they were a year ago.

One look at the current lineup tells a person everything they need to know about Dallas' current direction.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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