Friday, February 3, 2023 Feb 3, 2023
37° F Dallas, TX
Football

The Cowboys Number to Know: 60 (Week 8 Versus Chicago)

Or: why mobile quarterbacks are officially a problem for Dallas.
By |
Image
Chicago's Justin Fields was the latest mobile quarterback to gash the Cowboys' defense. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot to love about the Cowboys’ 49-29 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. 

Dallas scored a touchdown on each of its first four drives, then added three more in the second half to keep the margin at double digits for the entire fourth quarter after the game had gotten a little tight. Dak Prescott completed 78 percent of his passes and accounted for three of the touchdowns, but he wasn’t even the talk of the offense. That honor went to Tony Pollard and his 131 yards and three rushing touchdowns. The run game was flowing, and that’s what requires further discussion. But it’s not just the Pollard carries that deserve a few extra views. It’s the run game that’s coming the other way—against the Cowboys. It has been the weakest link of the top-five defense all season, and one point specifically stood out as a big red flag this week. It boils down to one number: 60.

That’s how many rushing yards Bears quarterback Justin Fields piled up. It’s the second time this year Dallas has allowed an opposing quarterback to run at least 60 yards—the Giants’ Daniel Jones had 79 yards in Week 3—and the fourth time an opposing quarterback has run for at least 25 yards.
Stopping the run has been the biggest issue for the defense this season. It hasn’t been awful — the Cowboys are 21st in yards per carry allowed, 15th in EPA/rush allowed, and 10th in success rate allowed. The numbers are a bit all over the board, but it seems safe to say the run defense is average. Where Dallas is decidedly worse than average, though, is against mobile quarterbacks, whether it be on designed runs or scrambles.

Dallas has allowed the fifth-highest yards per carry to opposing quarterbacks and the second-highest EPA/carry to quarterbacks. Fields exemplified this on Sunday, going for 7.5 yards per attempt and a goal-line touchdown. On that TD drive, Fields picked up 32 of the Bears’ 75 yards on the ground. If you’re wondering how the Chicago Bears of all teams were the first to notch more than three touchdowns against this defense, look no further than Fields. He was a problem.

The Cowboys were fortunate it wasn’t worse. A third-quarter designed run on whichFields hit a top speed of 21.2 mph (fastest for any quarterback this season, and the fastest for any player in Week 8) was called back because of a holding penalty (that didn’t affect the play itself). What should have been an explosive 41-yard run ended up as a 6-yard run in the stat sheet.

Dallas failed to contain Fields on this read option—and that came after he had already gained 42 yards on six carries. At some point, Dallas has to play the quarterback run, even if it means sacrificing a body in the box watching the running back.

Again, this wasn’t the first time a running quarterback got the better of the Dallas defense. Of just a handful of games where a quarterback accounted for at least 5 EPA on the ground, Dallas was on the short end of the stick three times. Fields, Jones, and Joe Burrow were all extremely successful with their legs.

Through eight games, the Cowboys have been fortunate that this hole in the defense hasn’t led to a loss. Jalen Hurts managed a modest 27 yards rushing in the Eagles’ Week 6 win over Dallas, but Cooper Rush’s three interceptions played a far bigger role in that loss. Heading into the back half of the season, this area of the defense could present a significant problem for Dallas as it vies for a playoff spot in what is arguably the toughest division in the NFC. In order to have any chance at winning the division (and in all likelihood, winning in the playoffs), the Cowboys will have to shut down some of the most mobile quarterbacks in the game. They’ve got one game left against Jones and Hurts, who run more often than any other quarterbacks aside from Fields and Lamar Jackson. If the offense sputters during either of those games, things could turn south quickly.

If the Bears can put up 29 points on the Cowboys defense, the Eagles and Giants are absolutely capable of doing the same. And those teams much tougher defenses for Dallas’ offense to score on, too.

The Cowboys look like a nearly complete team with Prescott back at the helm and one of the best pass defenses and pass rushes in the NFL. But allowing Fields to run all over them exposed a flaw that could easily be exploited by their two biggest division rivals. The coaching staff would be wise to use the bye week to ensure this flaw doesn’t become a fatal one.

Author

Dan Morse

Dan Morse

View Profile
Dan covers the Cowboys for StrongSide. He is a Pacific Northwest native & self-described nerd who has been covering the…

Related Articles

Image
Football

What I’m Watching: Dallas Cowboys Playoff Football

Plus a big Southwest matchup and the start of the Wings' offseason
Image
Football

What I’m Watching: Dallas Cowboys Playoff Football

Plus: Luka versus Trae, and TCU tries to take down Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse
Image
Football

Why Don’t the Dallas Cowboys Own Cowboys.com?

The team once accidentally bid $275K for the URL.