SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Simply put, Dallas failed the test out west on Sunday night.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong – from the poorest of play on both sides of the ball to injuries to things that were supposed to be solved not showing progress – went wrong.
There was a lot to take away from the effort that Dallas mustered at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night. Here are the 5 Takes, presented by Take 5 Oil Change.
- Dallas is a good team. San Francisco is elite. There's no downplaying that Sunday night was a litmus test for this team, and they failed that test. The offseason was constructed around taking the next step and putting the team in a better position to beat teams exactly like San Francisco, and instead it's now clear that Dallas took a step back. The Niners proved on Sunday night that they are in the top tier of NFL teams and poised to make a run to the Super Bowl. Dallas, on the other hand? Simply a playoff win would be exceeding expectations at this point.
- CeeDee Lamb needs to take over when needed. In a year where CeeDee Lamb is vying for a pricey contract extension, his official number rides on every performance he puts forward in 2023. In two games this season where an offensive spark was needed, Lamb was ineffective and failed to get open against secondaries that had weaknesses. Through five games, Lamb's 358 yards lead the team, but most of his production has come when the Cowboys have built on leads, not when they've needed to cut into one.
- The offense is not built to claw into deficits. We now have a large sample size on what Mike McCarthy's offense looks like, and it's clear that its methodical, quick gain methods are not built to help the Cowboys claw into deficits. In two games that Dallas has needed to work from behind, the offense has stuck to its short concepts and failed to show any life in a comeback effort. On Sunday night, the Cowboys forced things into all three levels which resulted in three Dak Prescott interceptions that were all poor pre-calculated decisions.
- The Cowboys need linebacker depth now more than ever. If Leighton Vander Esch – who left in the fourth quarter with a scary upper body injury – misses time moving forward, extra depth in the linebacker room is absolutely necessary. Sure, the Cowboys added Mikel Jones to the practice squad last week, but they'll need more than a rookie undrafted free agent who has never played a down. It might be time for the front office to help out the depth in that room with so many injuries stacking up and very little depth behind it.
- The next 14 days will decide this team's identity. When the schedule was released in May, the bye week being so early in the season threw some for a loop, but it might end up being at a pristine time for this group. In what has been a Jekyll & Hyde five-game effort to this point, the Cowboys need to find their identity – and stick to it. They will have eight days to regroup before playing the Chargers at SoFi Stadium next Monday night, and they'll need every day to figure out what went wrong in San Francisco in order to beat a really good team in Los Angeles. After that, the bye week will be crucial in determining where this team goes from there.