As Cowboys prepare for big Eagles game, a key unit is finally getting hot

Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams became the latest victim of the stifling Dallas Cowboys defense.

The Rams watched as Cowboys rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey continued his perfect season, tying the NFL record for most made field goals without a miss as he improved to 18-of-18.

But the Cowboys also unlocked another dimension of their game that they hadn’t shown this season, a dimension that will ratchet up their danger level if they can continue to find it.

Dallas’ offense was explosive. It was efficient. And rather than just following the defense’s lead as in earlier-season wins, the Cowboys' offense guided the 43-20 blowout. The Cowboys posted a season-best 387 offensive yards in a contest that could have been more lopsided if Dallas didn’t pull starters with about 12 minutes to play.

The Cowboys, now preparing for an important contest vs. the Philadelphia Eagles next week, improved to 5-2. The Rams fell to 3-5, also losing starting quarterback Matthew Stafford partway through the third quarter due to a thumb injury.

Credit the connection between Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver CeeDee Lamb with the dominant day. Prescott completed 80.6% of passes (25-of-31) for 304 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Even with the red-zone interception, which was tipped by tight end Sean McKeon before Rams safety Jordan Fuller nabbed it, 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 résumé, including a pair of touchdowns.

“We wanted to make sure to continue to build. 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 get some more attempts out there, and the guys did a great job protecting and getting.

“In all three phases … guys were ready to go.”

Cowboys piled an early lead they never lost

The first few plays of the game seemed to spell a far messier day for the Cowboys’ offense than would unfold.

Capitalizing on the Cowboys fielding a backup left tackle, Rams linebacker Michael Hoecht sacked Prescott from behind on the first play of the game. Two plays later, as the Cowboys faced third-and-11, Prescott was downed again — this time courtesy Byron Young coming from Prescott’s right. A Rams penalty gifted Dallas a first down. All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrapped that gift with his own sack.

Four plays. Three sacks. Eight net yards lost.

The Rams were testing McCarthy’s pass-heavy game plan. But Cowboys right guard Zack Martin told teammates, per center Tyler Biadasz: “Keep pounding, boys. Keep pounding.”

Dak Prescott (4) and CeeDee Lamb (88) had a big afternoon as the Cowboys' offense powered a decisive win over the Rams. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)
Dak Prescott (4) and CeeDee Lamb (88) had a big afternoon as the Cowboys' offense powered a decisive win over the Rams. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Prescott found Lamb in the slot, positioning the receiver to tack on 11 yards after the catch for 17 total and a first down. Prescott found receivers Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks for a pair of double gains, before threading an 18-yard touchdown pass between Rams defenders and into the outstretched arms of tight end Jake Ferguson.

The transformed drive — from three sacks to 10 plays, 75 yards and a touchdown — instead set the tone for the rest of the day.

“That’s an example of just playing one play at a time,” Prescott said. “Just take it one play at a time and get in the momentum. Don’t think about the last, as sh**** as it was or could have been. Just move forward.

“We could have easily put our heads down and started pouting or griping or got down on ourselves after the first couple of plays. [But] we responded.”

The rout began as the first quarter elapsed, Stafford targeting receiver Cooper Kupp with a cross-body throw. But the duo miscommunicated on the route concept, Rams head coach Sean McVay confirmed after the game. Kupp wasn’t looking back, much less in position, to catch the pass that Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland instead reeled in and returned 30 yards for his third pick 6 of the season, one away from tying the NFL record.

The Cowboys' defense then forced the Rams into a three-and-out when Micah Parsons swam past Rams center Coleman Shelton … which was the least punishing of three straight plays for the Rams. Because as they attempted to punt, Cowboys defenders broke through for a blocked punt credited to defensive end Sam Williams and tallied as a safety.

The kickoff try afterward? Cowboys receiver Ka’Vontae Turpin raced it back 63 yards. Two snaps later, Prescott fired another laser through the middle of the end zone to Lamb, who shook off cornerback Derion Kendrick along his route.

“I got started early and it kind of opened up the offense for us, giving us the ability to call any plays with no restrictions,” Lamb said. “I feel like that’s when we’re at our best: When we’re playing fast and making plays.”

The lead was comfortable enough to withstand a red-zone interception off a pass Prescott threw into traffic that tipped rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker’s hands but landed instead with the Rams’ Fuller. It was comfortable enough even to withstand Rams touchdowns going into and coming out of the half.

Still, after Stafford found Ben Skowronek for the tight end’s first career receiving touchdown, the Rams trailed by 18 points. So McVay, coaching his first game since becoming a father, dialed up two-point conversion shenanigans that featured receiver Tutu Atwell passing to Stafford.

The play worked, in the micro sense: Stafford dove for the just-short pass and secured the conversion. The Rams got two points. But they lost Stafford, who hit on the ground the thumb he’d already banged against a helmet in the game. Backup quarterback Brett Rypien played the final 26 minutes. Rypien completed 5 of 10 passes for 42 yards.

Before exiting, Stafford had completed 13 of 22 attempts for 162 yards, a touchdown and an interception in addition to catching a 9-yard pass for the 2-point conversion.

“It’s definitely very tough,” Fuller said of losing Stafford. “In my opinion he has Hall of Fame talent, so losing a player like that is hard. It’s a next-man-up mentality …

“His value is still really, really important to this team.”

Can Cowboys offense repeat explosiveness vs. Eagles?

The Cowboys emerged buoyant from the win, their 11th straight home victory tying a franchise record. Parsons credited the offense for starting fast — “Dak helped us create opportunities on defense,” he said — while Lamb noted Prescott did more than make plays.

“Everybody’s got a reason, but we need a why,” Lamb said. “And Dak is our why.”

The eighth-year Cowboys quarterback played his most complete game of the season, even with the interception. He threw four touchdown passes for the eighth time in his career and used his legs to pick up first downs in an element of attack the Cowboys hope to continue using to keep defenses honest.

And yet, Prescott didn’t celebrate when told that Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones had deemed the performance his best game for a second straight contest.

“Let’s make it three next week,” Prescott said, before agreeing: “Yeah, I’m in a rhythm.”

The Cowboys know they need to carry that rhythm to Philadelphia next week to build toward 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 narrow the gap to half a game. The teams haven’t faced off with each of their starting quarterbacks on the field since September 2021.

Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said he, Parsons and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence told one another before kicking off against the Rams: “Let’s get this game over quick because we know what we got ahead of us next week.”

And Prescott, when told Jones didn’t want to “poke the bear” giving the Eagles bulletin board, veered in the opposite direction.

“If you see me and a bear fight, pour honey on me,” Prescott said. “We can poke it. It’s part of the National Football League. Whether we talk or not, we know what’s ahead of us.

“Big, big, big rival. Division game. … It’s a matchup we’re looking forward to.”