Dak Prescott-CeeDee Lamb connection elevating Cowboys offense to new heights

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FRISCO, Texas — Consistency eluded the Dallas Cowboys offense the first five weeks of the 2023 as the team rode defensive dominance while lacking continuity along their offensive line and missing a heavy dose of 2022 Second-Team All-Pro wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in their offensive game plan. The reasons for the uptick in the Cowboys’ offensive production over the last four weeks of NFL action is rather simple: Dallas head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy empowered his top offensive players, quarterback Dak Prescott and Lamb, by playing to win football games instead of playing not to lose them. The Cowboys also have that much-needed continuity on the left side of their offensive line — Prescott’s blindside.
The result of these tweaks is Dallas is playing like a top 10 offense in nearly every key metric as evidenced below.
Cowboys offense this season
WEEKS 1-5 WEEKS 6-9 Offensive PPG 21.2* 25.7** Total YPG 327.4* 378.3** Yards/Play 4.9* 5.9** Air Yards/Pass Att 6.6* 9.1**
Run Pct 47.1%** 37.6% Third Down Pct 49.3%** 42.5% Red Zone TD Pct 36.8%* 53.8% Time of Possession 32:16** 31:40**
* Ranks 16th or worse in NFL
** Top 10 in NFL
Following the deflating 42-10 Week 5 loss at the San Francisco 49ers on “Sunday Night Football,” Lamb, who totaled four catches for 49 receiving yards, said “I don’t know” three times postgame when asked what the Cowboys’ offensive identity was. McCarthy’s answer at the time was even more jarring: he said the offense was about time of possession and saving the defense, specifically saying: “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].”
Now, the emphasis and rhetoric has flipped in Dallas’ favor since as the metrics above indicate. The Cowboys’ rushing rate has dropped nearly 10 percentage points from 47.1% in Weeks 1-5 to 37.6% in Weeks 6-9. As a result, Dallas has become a top 10 scoring and total offense over the last four weeks because its offense is now, in the words of Lamb after the team’s 43-20 Week 8 win over the Rams, “explosive and physical.” In Lamb’s eyes, the ensuing meeting of the minds between McCarthy, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Prescott and himself has directly led to the offensive improvement since.
“Without that conversation [Lamb calling out the team’s offense game plan], we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are now,” Lamb said Thursday. “And I feel like the elevation in the offense is amazing. I’m grateful for that. Grateful for Mike [McCarthy] trusting in me. Grateful for the team trusting in me and my abilities.”
Lamb is far and away the best playmaker at McCarthy’s disposal, and his numbers since Week 6 indicate he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL: his 466 receiving yards in this stretch lead the entire NFL despite Lamb playing three games since Week 6 thanks to a Week 7 bye. Lamb has over 100 receiving yards in each of his last three games, including setting and resetting his career high in receiving yards in each of the last two weeks. He totaled 117 yards on seven catches at the Chargers, 158 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 12 catches against the Rams and 191 receiving yards on 11 catches at the Eagles. Lamb’s production isn’t just about words: the Cowboys have seen an even more locked in version of the fourth-year receiver since when it comes to his weekly preparation.
CeeDee Lamb since Week 6, NFL ranks
NFL RANK Targets 37 T-12th Receptions 30 T-5th Team Target Pct 34.3% 3rd Receiving Yards 466 1st Receiving Touchdowns 2 T-8th
* Played only three of a possible four games in span because of Week 7 bye
“It’s a credit to CeeDee first and foremost,” Schottenheimer said Monday. “Since he came out with his frustration, whatever game that was [the Cowboys’ 42-10 loss at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5], he has put the work in on the practice field, and he’s just worked with a different intentionality, a different intensity in practice. It’s been awesome to see. I remember the first practice after, I can’t remember the game you guys might remember, but again just every rep was like full-speed. Competitive drills were unbelievable. It’s a credit to him. The timing and stuff with Dak has been awesome. We try to move him around and put him in different spots. You’ll see him isolated [out wide], you’ll see him in the slot, you’ll see him in the backfield, and that’s all part of the game plan. That speaks to his football IQ. The guy gets football. You talk to him on the sidelines, and he knows what’s going on. He knows where his help is coming from. He knows ‘hey, yeah I can win that route, this guy has been playing outside leverage.’ When we have conversations on the sideline when the drive is over, he’s a great guy to talk to because the feedback that he gives you is usually dead on. Each week is different. I’m certainly aware that that production makes people want to stop him but they have to stop him. He has such a great feel with Dak that even when he is covered, he’s not really covered. Because we can throw the ball in certain spots. That’s when you have that me-you factor where yeah he is covered or he is doubled, but it doesn’t matter, I’m going to throw it to a certain spot.”
To Schottenheimer’s point, Lamb’s efficiency when he and McCarthy have opted to move him around has been a game-charger in 2023. Lamb led the NFL in receiving yards out of the slot (867) in 2022 while ranking second in catches (63), four behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowler Chris Godwin’s 67. He is once again feasting from inside, where he lines up 62.7% of the time in 2023, as his 404 receiving yards from the slot are the second-most in the NFL behind Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen, a player who has played one more game than Lamb thanks to the Panthers Week 10 loss to the Chicago Bears on “Thursday Night Football.”
However, Lamb has become more efficient and prolific in his opportunities on the outside at the “X” position in 2023: his 4.38 yards per route run on the outside leads the NFL among 77 qualified wide receivers and he averages close to 25 more receiving yards per game on plays when he is lined up outside in 2023 in juxtaposition to 2022, according to Yahoo Sports’ Nate Tice. The NFL’s current receiving yards leader, Miami Dolphins All-Pro wideout Tyreek Hill (1,076 receiving yards) 4.34 yards run per outside route run are second-most, and he and Lamb are the only players averaging over 4 yards per outside route in the entire league.
CeeDee Lamb career offensive snap alignment
2020 2021 2022 2023 Wide 8.4% 62.6% 46.4% 36.3% Slot 91.2% 36% 52.7% 62.7% Inline 0.1% 0% 0.3% 0% Backfield 0.3% 1.4% 0.6% 1%
*Data according to Pro Football Focus
“I think for one it [moving Lamb to all different spots along the formation] allows us to see the matchups better,” Prescott said Thursday. “Defenses if they want to double and cloud his side, put two on his side, they can do that with him at X [outside receiver] and then that gives a bunch of one on ones to the field that allows other guys the opportunity to go win. Then, when we move him inside, it’s very specific of what we’re going to do with him. Once again, if they want to put all the attention on there, you got matchups outside to win. That’s just the way we have attacked this thing.”
One example of the Cowboys taking advantage of defenses shading their coverage toward Lamb when he’s lined up outside is Prescott’s 18-yard touchdown pass to second-year tight end Jake Ferguson over the middle in their 43-20 beatdown of the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. Prescott was able to simply loft the ball over the linebackers in the middle of the field to Ferguson, who didn’t have a safety behind him in the end zone.
“I’m a slot boy or something, that’s what I heard,” Lamb said jokingly on Thursday. “That’s the narrative right now. I’m comfortable anywhere on the field. Outside the numbers, inside the numbers, in the backfield to run a route. Whatever the team needs, versatility is also another one of my key components. I take pride in it. Just line me up anywhere and tell me what I got. If it’s one-on-one, I know who I got to beat.”
Lamb becoming a more explosive outside receiver this season can be attributed to him trimming the fat in his route-running thanks to drilling that element coming out of his breaks over and over and over again in the offseason with both a private coach back home in the Houston area and with Prescott.
“Top of the route, just getting in and out of my breaks, not necessarily taking a false step and sometimes when needed winning with my size because nine times out of 10 I’m a lot taller than the next guy,” Lamb said. “Repetitive routes, just continuing to go on the same route and not get tired or bored. Always trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You get out of your comfortable state that’s where the learning happens.”
Prescott agreed his Lamb’s assessment on how that seemingly small tweak has created an offensive explosion over the course of this season.
“Yeah, it’s easier. It creates more trust. He is better at the top. He said it. The tape would prove it,” Prescott said. “For one, understanding the ball and where I’m going to throw it once he is at the top of those routes depending on where the defender is. Whether he needs to shave it down, whether he needs to take it, or whether he needs to come back and be physical. So what that really does more than anything is just create trust. ‘Hey, you’re going to do that, I’m going to put it there and you’re going to make that catch as we all know you can do it.'”
The increased chemistry on those outside routes between Prescott and Lamb can be directly connected to 2023 being the first full offseason the Dallas duo has been able to work together. Lamb’s rookie year was in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 when the ability for people to gather together was limited and. In 2021, Lamb was still behind four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper on the depth chart. Now that Lamb is in his second season as Prescott’s top target, the connection is blossoming like never before.
“Really got to settle in and learn each other’s game [this past offseason],” Prescott said. “Learned what we want to do and get our communication better honestly. It’s every day of practice, it translates into the game. As I told you all before, it goes way back to the spring. He’s a hell of an athlete, he’s a hungry competitor and wants to be the best. Not only wants to be the best, he has the mindset and expectations that he is the best every time that he touches the field. When you can play the game with that standard, that mindset, it makes my job a lot easier.”
“Just a lot of time that we worked on this offseason compared to any other offseason we’ve had,” Lamb said. “We had the full offseason together, a lot of bonding. A lot of time together, and it’s showing. The trust in each other when I’m running my route, I’m seeing him and he’s seeing me.”
Lamb isn’t the only one whose numbers are benefitting from the increase in targets his direction. Prescott has thrown for over 300 yards in consecutive games, and he has completed over 80% of his passes in an NFL-best three games in 2023, the last one coming against the Rams in Week 8. This onslaught has Prescott producing as a top 10 NFL quarterback, a distinction that chews up hours worth of debates on sports talk shows and social media alike.
Dak Prescott this season
NFL RANK Completion Pct 70.2% 3rd Pass Yards/Att 7.6 6th Pass TD 13 T-9th TD-INT 13-5 9th Passer Rating 100.7 7th
One of the many lessons that can be learned from the Cowboys offensive revival is that if you’re willing to put in the work and know you can walk the walk, feel free to talk your talk.
“I think anytime you put all your chips in and you come out with a strong statement… I love [it and] competitive receivers,” Scottenheimer said. “I’ve never been around one that was a great player that wasn’t competitive and didn’t want the ball. The beauty of it is the way he has worked. … He just has a knack. He runs like a running back with the ball in his hands. That’s why he’s a tough tackle. The physical attributes are obviously special, but the mental makeup and the football instincts are the thing that if you don’t talk about that, you’re missing the boat because you’re talking about a guy that we literally move around and we have all these different tags where he has to go to different spot, and that’s the beauty of why he’s such a weapon because we can move him around. I’ve been around some receivers in the past where they’re more of a one-position guy, and it’s easier to double and find them. … With CeeDee, that’s not the case because his football intelligence is off the charts.”
The only left to do now, in Lamb’s eyes, is to keep the good times rolling when they face off against the New York Giants at home on Sunday.
“Be consistent, I can’t preach that enough and just continue to go off what we built,” Lamb said.We set a great foundation these past couple of weeks, and we know what’s at stake going forward. Stay true to ourselves, believe in one another. Keep continuing to talk through our reps that we miss in practice. Sundays, it’ll be a show.”

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