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The 2023 Dallas Cowboys experience has been as smooth as a roller coaster, something their 3-2 record indicates. Each of their first five games has been decided by at least 10 points, both positively and negatively for head coach Mike McCarthy's bunch. Entering Week 5, the Cowboys were rolling, but after absorbing a 42-10 whooping at the San Francisco 49ers on "Sunday Night Football," everything is up for reevaluation through the first quarter of the season. 

The combined record of the Cowboys' first four 2023 foes was 5-15, and they outscored them by nearly 100 points, 124-41. That is the mark of what looked to be dominant team. San Francisco has now improved to 5-0, and outscored Dallas 42-10. The Cowboys allowed more points in Week 5 than they had all season, calling into question if they have what it takes to hang in the playoffs this season. That makes Dallas the first team since the 1990 Raiders to surrender more points in their fifth game of a season than they allowed in their first four games combined, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Those Raiders reached the AFC Championship Game, but they were destroyed by Jim Kelly's and Marv Levy's Buffalo Bills, 51-3. Dallas has lost both of its last two playoff games against the 49ers by one possession, but at this point, a similar multi-score defeat feels likely if these two teams meet again in January, calling into question the caliber of the Cowboys.   

Cowboys this season




L, 42-10

Points scored



Points Allowed



Opponent W-L



GiantsJets, Cardinals, Patriots

Here's a look at where the Cowboys stand through the season's first quarter. Outside of special teams, there is plenty of room for improvement. 

Offense: C-

In their blowout loss to the 49ers, the Cowboys were limited to a panic-inducing 8 total yards on their first four drives, forcing three three-and-outs and a fumble. That allowed San Francisco to race out to a 14-0 lead before Dallas even recorded a first down. 

"We didn't establish a rhythm," Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said postgame on Sunday. "We couldn't get the run game going. We didn't get the run game going. It was tough to get completions. When that's the case and you're not getting first downs putting yourself in third and manageable, a position we would like to be in, it's always going to be tough. It's a tough business. When you're stepping on your own feet against a team like that, you're only making it harder. Against a team like that, it's damn near impossible."

Week 5 was the Cowboys' second embarrassing defeat of the season to go along with a 28-16 upset loss at the previously winless Arizona Cardinals back in Week 3. With the yo-yo-like nature of the Cowboys "Texas Coast" offense in McCarthy's first season as Dallas' offensive play-caller, frustrations are beginning to show. 

"We got to be complete," Lamb said. "We can't go out there one week and look like a super team and then the following week shit the bed."

When asked what the Cowboys' offensive identity is this season, he provided a damning answer. 

"I don't know," Lamb said. 

McCarthy said postgame that not having a "balance" between run and pass was right up there with not converting "manageable" third downs in the first half. The Cowboys totaled just two carries for 5 yards in the first quarter, one of which ended up as a lost fumble by Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard. The team totaled 21 rushing yards on seven carries in the first half altogether as Dallas entered the locker room with a 14-point deficit, 21-7. The second half wasn't much better as they could only muster 36 rushing yards on 12 carries, which threw off their ideal game script tremendously. On Monday, McCarthy revealed perhaps the biggest kicker when elaborating on a question about his team's offensive identity: the Cowboys are driven by their defense. 

"When we started this offensive approach back in April, I just think it's a matter of: Who do you want to be and who do you think you are? I coached a team [the Green Bay Packers] for a lot years that was offensive driven," McCarthy said. "But this team is about defense. Let's make no bones about it. That's not a slight against the offense. We want to score as many points as everybody and we're not playing not to lose, so don't mix the message here. But we play to our defense. That's the strength of our team. And by doing that, the time of possession, taking care of the football, those are two things that I thought were improvements from past years, the first month. Clearly, it was not [versus the 49ers]."  

When zooming out to look at how different McCarthy's offense is from former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who is now in the same role with the Los Angeles Chargers, it's apparent there isn't much of a difference at all through the first quarter of the season.

When you remove non-offensive scores, of which the Cowboys have four this season, and take the temperature of the Dallas offense, the unit is averaging 21.2 offensive points per game this season, down 5.2 points per game from last season. One of McCarthy's big philosophical assertions about his offense versus Moore's was that he "wanted to run the damn ball." That was said in the context of maintaining possession and not wearing out his defense. So far, the Cowboys are running the football at essentially the same rate as they did in Moore's offense. Meanwhile, the Chargers are averaging five more points per game with Moore (27. 5 in 2023 vs. 22.5 in 2022) while quarterback Justin Herbert has increased his average pass length to 8.8 in 2023, the fifth-longest in the NFL, after averaging 6.4 last season, the third-shortest in the NFL. On the flip side, the Cowboys now average almost an air yard fewer per pass attempt this season than they did last season (7.9 to 7.0), an indicator of McCarthy's desire to overcorrect on a 2022 campaign in which Prescott's 15 interceptions co-led the league despite the quarterback missing five games with a thumb injury. While remaining a top-five third-down offense, the Cowboys went from being the most efficient red zone offense in 2022 to the fifth-least efficient red zone offense in 2023. 

What will the offensive identity be going forward? Well, McCarthy had a long-winded answer on Thursday that didn't really answer that question. Two things are certain, more variety and plays downfield are musts.

Cowboys offense last two seasons


Offensive PPG



Total YPG


Air Yards/Pass Att7.97.0*
Red Zone TD Pct71.4%36.8%*
Run Pct47.7%44.8%
Third Down Pct45.5%49.3%
Red Zone TD Pct71.4%36.8%
Time of Possession29:20*32:16

* Ranks 16th or worse in NFL

Defense: B 

The heartbeat of the Cowboys is two-time All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons as he and the rest of the team's pass rush sets the tone for what kind of game the team is going to play in. Against the 49ers, Parsons and the pass rush couldn't do much of anything. Dallas entered Week 5 leading the NFL with 55.6% quarterback pressure rate, the best in the NFL by over 10 percentage points. On Sunday, they pressured Brock Purdy on 23.1% of his dropbacks, ranked as the fifth-lowest of Week 5 entering "Monday Night Football." Safety Jayron Kearse accounted for the only sack of the night. 

Even after the defeat on a night in which there wasn't much to brag about, Parsons still remains one of the NFL's best at getting after the quarterback. His 29 quarterback pressures are the second-most in the NFL as is his 22.3% quarterback pressure percentage among the 92 players with 100 or more pass rushes this season. Dallas as whole remains the league's best unit at pressuring opposing quarterbacks (46.7% pressure rate), but holes remain in the run game and converting all these pressures into sacks. The passing defense, despite the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, remains a bright spot. That is thanks to second-year, fifth-round pick cornerback DaRon Bland, who is stepped up in a massive way on the outside in his absence. Bland's 12.9 passer rating in coverage this season is the best in the NFL among the 153 players with 15 or more passes thrown their way. 

Cowboys defense this season

NFL Rank

PPG Allowed



Total YPG Allowed



Yards/Play Allowed



Rush YPG Allowed



Pass YPG Allowed



3rd Down Pct Allowed



Red Zone TD Pct Allowed



QB Pressure Rate



Passer Rating Allowed80.810th

In the Cowboys' two losses this season, their run defense has been brutalized, allowing 222 yards on the ground against the Cardinals and 170 on the ground against the 49ers. The Cowboys face the Los Angeles Chargers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 6, and then they have their bye in Week 7. That means there is time for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to figure out how to clean up some of the issues the team has up front.

"When you get your ass kicked,you really only got a couple choices in a fight: You pout about it or you get back up and say, 'Bring it on' and you get rocking again," Quinn said Monday. "And I certainly know that's what we're going to do. … I've been on teams where it goes the other way, where there's finger pointing and blame. And that's certainly not this group. We're extremely disappointed, but also know what we're made of. We're not going to let this game beat us twice."

Special teams: A 

The special teams unit was one of the more maligned phases of the Cowboys a season ago after veteran kicker Brett Maher got the yips. However, NFL rookie Brandon Aubrey, who McCarthy has likened to a "young Mason Crosby" -- the Green Bay Packers all-time leading scorer that McCarthy coached for over a decade -- has been automatic. He has drained all 14 of his field goal attempts in 2023, making him the first kicker in the Super Bowl era to make his first 14 field goal attempts in the first five games of his career. Aubrey is also only the seventh kicker in NFL history to begin his career 14-for-14 or better. That is outstanding. 

The rookie has also been excellent on kickoffs as he leads the league with 31 touchbacks on 32 kickoffs. Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger's 45.3 net yards per punt rank third in the NFL, making special teams the Cowboys best unit so far in 2023.

Coaching: D+

This is a tough element to grade because only the players and the coaches know the intricate details of their play calls and what is trying to be accomplished each snap. However between Lamb not being able to describe the Cowboys' offensive identity, and what Parsons has said since the 49ers game, it's clearly the coaches on offense and defense have a lot of work to do to get on the same page with their players. 

"I don't know, that's something that there's only so much I can do from where I'm standing at," Parsons said when asked about the team's run defense after the 49ers game on Sunday. "Like, I don't know what's going on inside. I just set the edge, bro. Like, I don't know things that the interior or whatever needs to get addressed. It's just something the coaches need to look at."  

Saying the defensive coaches need to do a better job of putting the interior defense linemen in the right spots is one thing. Parsons taking a blowtorch to Quinn and his defensive staff on his podcast Monday night is another. 

"They had every counterattack," Parsons said on his Bleacher Report 'The Edge' podcast Monday night. "They outschemed us. And that's just the truth of it. They were prepared for everything we were in, everything we were prepared to do. And we just didn't help ourselves at that. My hat is off to Kyle Shanahan and how he prepared. I definitely think he was prepared for us. I don't think that we were put in a position to be prepared for what they have. I feel like they knew exactly what we were in. They game planned and outschemed us. Simple as that. I just feel like we were in a position where we could have made plays and did better. That's just the truth about it. Only the players know what is going on out there at the end of the day, and I'm not going to go too in depth into it, but that's just what it is."

These next few weeks will require much soul-searching in order for the Cowboys coaches and players to be back in sync.