NOTES: Cowboys’ Pollard proving to be special

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (12763357o) Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Arlington, Texas 49ers Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 16 Jan 2022

NOTES: Cowboys’ Pollard proving to be special

With every touch he gets, Tony Pollard’s next contract continues to grow.

Pollard, a free agent this coming offseason, is putting together a year that should get him paid like a franchise running back. One that produces in the run and passing games.

“Being a back, not known for just running the ball, actually you can catch the ball too,” Pollard said about being a complete running back. “Because, some backs, you look at them, and they’re not really a big catcher, or he’s not a big physical runner. I’m just trying to be balanced and have a little bit of everything.”

On Sunday, he showed a little bit of everything. Pollard, who makes less than one million dollars this season, led the Cowboys in rushing and receiving as the Cowboys hung 40 points on the Vikings. He touched the ball 21 times – 15 rushes, 6 catches, gaining 189 total yards.

“I look at Tony as a starter, and his ability to run all aspects of our offense,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “From not only the running back position but from the receiver position obviously speaks to his value. Obviously, his production has been extraordinary this month.”

Sunday was the second time this season that Pollard set a career-best in total yards, smashing the 147-yard performance he had in the win over Chicago in Week 8.

Pollard was his usual self in the run game, averaging just over 5.3 yards per carry. It was his six catches that blew open the game. Two went for touchdowns of 30 and 68 yards, where he ran away from the defenders in the open field.

His 109-yard afternoon catching the ball was a career-best day for the fourth-year back out of Memphis, besting his six-catch, 63-yard day in the Cowboys’ win over San Francisco in December of 2020.

“No one catches him; I do know that since I’ve been here,” McCarthy said. “There’s not too many games that he doesn’t have a long run. … His ability to break tackles on the second level and finish is excellent.”

Pollard now leads the Cowboys in rushing with 701 yards while fourth in receiving, behind CeeDee Lamb (751 yards), Noah Brown (384), and Dalton Schultz (279), with 243 yards on 21 catches.

“The guy is special,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said about Pollard. “He can do a lot of different things to help this offense and this team. He just continues to show up, day in and day out.”

Third down success

If teams want to win football games in the NFL, it comes down to play on third downs. Offenses have to find success on them, while defenses have to force punts.

The Cowboys offense hitting at 41.5% conversion rate on third down is good for 13th in the NFL.

For the Cowboys, offensively, third downs were a struggle through the Cooper Rush-led portion of the season. During Rush’s five starts, the Cowboys were successful just 35% of the time, going 22-for-63.

With Dak Prescott running the offense, the Cowboys have been successful at a 47% clip, hitting on 32-of-67 tries. If you take out the loss to Tampa Bay to open the season, where the Cowboys were successful on just 20% of their tries, the Prescott-led offense was good on 55% (29-of-52) of their opportunities.

Break it down even further, and the Cowboys are first in the NFL over the last three games, converting just over 60% of their opportunities, including a 9-of-11 day against Chicago.

Against Minnesota, Dallas got the first down on 12 of the 17 third downs they faced.

As for the Cowboys’ defense, they have dominated on third downs and are ranked seventh in the league. They have held opponents to just over a 34% success rate, with no team finding first downs on 50% or more of their third downs in any game.

Consistent for a defense that continues to dominate opponents.

QB accuracy key to winning

The Cowboys don’t need Dak Prescott to throw for 400-plus yards and 3-plus touchdowns a game to win.

No, they just need him to be accurate with his throws.

He did that on Sunday afternoon, completing 22-of-25 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished with a QB rating of 139.3.

“Dak, I visit with him before the game like he always does, and the last thing we talked about was just the completions,” McCarthy said about the accuracy of his quarterback. “This is a veteran defense with a lot of experience. They do an excellent job of taking the ball away. … Dak was extremely, extremely patient. Going back to the touchdown on Tony, He goes all the way through his whole progression, and Tony is the last option. That’s the way you have to play.”

It is the sixth-best game of his career for flawless execution.

He had a 158.3 rating against the Giants in September 2019, the highest of his career. The others came in wins over Philadelphia (151.8) in January of 2022, Detroit (148.3) in 2016, Cleveland (141.8) in 2016, and Arizona (141.7) in 2017.

The statistic that stands out the most in each game is his accuracy. The most incompletions he had was seven in the win over the Giants. In Sunday’s win, he missed on just three passes, the least amount in the six games.

“He was extremely disciplined (against Minnesota),” McCarthy said. “Just went through his reads. … I thought Dak played extremely well (Sunday).”

Sacks coming at record pace

With 42 sacks through 10 games this season, the Cowboys are on pace to shatter the team record of 62, set in 1985.

The Cowboys, who run a 4-2-5 base defense, are getting it done this season with pressure mostly from the front six – four down lineman and two linebackers. They have 36 sacks from one of those six positions, spread among eight different defenders – LB Micah Parsons (10), DE Dorrance Armstrong (7), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (6), DE Dante Fowler Jr. (5), DE Sam Williams (3), DT Osa Odighizuwa (2), LB Leighton Vander Esch (1) and DT Neville Gallimore (1). The other six have come from the safety position – Donovan Wilson (3), Jayron Kearse (2), and Jourdan Lewis (1).

“Let’s be honest, people are going to try and run the ball on us, and they are going to have their hands full when they throw it,” McCarthy said. “We felt if we could (go to Minnesota), stop the run and let our pass rush have some opportunities, we felt like we could be successful. Micah definitely got us started.”

On Sunday, the Cowboys sacked Kirk Cousins seven times, including six by a defensive lineman or linebacker.

With seven games to play, Parsons is halfway to the team record of 20, set by DeMarcus Ware in 2008.

Cowboys out to break Thanksgiving streak

The Cowboys have little time to celebrate their blowout win in Minnesota, with the New York Giants waiting to scrap in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Stumbling in overtime last year against Las Vegas, Dallas is riding a three-game losing streak on the holiday, with their last win being a 31-23 win over Washington in 2018.

This will be just the second time in 122 meetings that the Cowboys and Giants will play on Thanksgiving Day. The other time came in 1992, when Emmitt Smith had one rushing and one receiving touchdown and 161 total yards in a 30-3 win for Dallas.

The Cowboys are 31-22-1 in their turkey day showdowns.

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