Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13636931db) Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) leaps over New York Giants cornerback Jason Pinnock (27) during the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas Giants Cowbooys Football, Arlington, United States – 24 Nov 2022
It only took one franchise tag, two rookies, and 11 games for the Cowboys’ tight end room to come together this season.
The Cowboys quartet of Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Sean McKeon has given the Cowboys offense a flexibility they are still growing into.
“Those guys do a really good job in the run game,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “Jake’s just physical at the point of attack. Peyton has found this awesome role of being this guy that can move around a do a number of things. Sean has done a little bit of backfield work and can play a versatile role. They give us a lot of diversity in our offense and allow us to do multiple things.”
In the win over the Giants on Thanksgiving Day, all four tight ends contributed in different ways. Schultz, who is the Cowboys’ most experienced of the group, led the way with a pair of third-quarter touchdown catches. Schultz was in on 63 offensive snaps and finished with 31 yards receiving on four catches.
“It’s a selfless group,” Schultz said. “Nobody cares who is really getting the credit right now.”
Ferguson, the Cowboys’ fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, had three catches for 30 yards in the win over New York, but it was his 30-yard catch and run that had heads turning. Ferguson leapt over Giants safety Jason Pinnock, which allowed him to gain an extra 10 yards on the play.
Hendershot, a Cowboys rookie free agent signing this past offseason, played his usual heavy dose of snaps on special teams in the victory on Thursday. He also got in on 20 offensive snaps, and while he didn’t make his presence felt in the passing game, he did in the run game. He scored on a 2-yard tight end jet sweep, the Cowboys’ final touchdown of the game.
McKeon finished with 22 snaps played, 17 coming on offense, where he helped the Cowboys to 169 yards rushing.
“We have a group that compliments each other’s skill sets really well,” Schultz said. “So, to (go) out and have the production like we did (on Thursday), it was awesome.”
After a day where all four tight ends contributed, Cowboys opponents can be sure they will see more of this over the final weeks of 2022.
“Certainly, as this season has gone on, Jake, Peyton, Sean, we know what Dalton is, but for those guys just to progress the way they have certainly gives us a lot of confidence to play them in those different personnel groups,” Moore said.
Churning out consistent play
The Cowboys continue to get consistent play from the running back position.
Whether it is Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard chewing up the yardage, the running game continues to lead the way for the Dallas offense.
The duo has combined to lift the Cowboys’ ground attack into the top 10 in the NFL at No. 7 by being almost interchangeable.
“Certainly, there are going to be a few plays here and there for each guy that lean maybe one way or the other, but both guys rep just about every play in the game plan,” Moore said. “They both rep it, and they are both able to do it, which is awesome from a play-calling standpoint to be able to stay in the flow. And then there will be a couple of game plan ones that we want specific guys in for, but they both do a great job.”
In the nine games the two have played together this season, Elliott has led the team in rushing yards in five of those games.
Pollard currently leads the Cowboys in rushing but has played two more games this season than Elliott. He put up his best two games of the season when he didn’t have Elliott to compliment him, rushing for 131 yards against Chicago and 115 yards against Green Bay.
Elliott has been the model of consistency, putting up 64.1 yards per game, and owns the team lead in touchdowns with seven.
“Those guys have done a tremendous job,” Moore said. “We all recognize how fortunate we are to have both of those guys – put them both in, keep them rotating. (Coach) Skip (Peete) and those two, unselfishly and in a really positive way, just allow both guys to have balance there. It keeps those guys fresh as the game wears on so that one guy’s not carrying the load. From an individual game, and from game to game, all that stuff adds up.”
Defense shuts down Barkley
Saquon Barkley came into Thanksgiving Day as the second leading rusher in the NFL.
By the time Monday night was finished, he was fourth.
The Cowboys’ run defense, which has been abused most of the season, was the direct cause for the tumble Barkley took in the rankings.
After giving up 126 total yards, with nine missed tackles, on 18 touches in the first meeting between the two teams, the Cowboys held Barkley to just 52 total yards on Thursday.
“We knew, going against this team, how important it was going to be able to set the edges,” Quinn said. “This running back, Barkley, he has such a good jump cut. He can start outside and bring it back inside. So, we worked that as much as we could during a short week. But we know how explosive and dangerous he is, so it was going to be the second, the third, the fourth guy to come in and make some plays.”
But it wasn’t just in the running game; the Cowboys kept Barkley in check in the short passing game the Giants like to employ, holding him to just 13 yards on four catches. The longest going for just five yards as the Cowboys swarmed Barkley on his 15 total touches in the game.
Familiarity in unfamiliar matchup
Despite being two of the long-standing franchises in the NFL, the Cowboys and Colts have only met 17 times in 62 years, including Super Bowl V.
The Colts, then located in Baltimore, beat Dallas 16-13 in that 1971 Super Bowl before losing six straight to the Cowboys.
In the last meeting, a Week 15 showdown in 2018, the Colts shutout Dallas 23-0 behind 139 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Marlon Mack.
This time, the Colts are led by quarterback Matt Ryan, someone Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knows well. Ryan started at quarterback for the Falcons while Quinn was the head coach in Atlanta from 2015-2020.
“He is a rare and relentless competitor,” Quinn said about Ryan. “That is probably one of the first things you find out about him … I would describe him as he’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He comes across real clean cut, nice. He is a real tough-ass competitor. … He has a special spot with me, just for his toughness, his leadership, and for kind of what he stands for.”
Ryan, who owns a 3-4 record against Dallas as a starter with Atlanta, has completed 146-of-225 passes for 1,751 yards, with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, in his seven starts, the last a 43-3 loss to Dallas in November of last season.