The Dallas Cowboys offense will garner most of the headlines following Monday Night's 31-14 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, given its recent struggles and Dak Prescott's 5-TD performance. But Dan Quinn's defense also deserves credit for making life difficult on Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense.
"Defensively, I thought we were all over them as soon as we got off the bus," coach Mike McCarthy said via the official transcript. "I think our defense really set the tempo for the game. For there to be a couple of three-and-outs to start the game, we just did a great job."
On the first six plays against the Cowboys defense, Tampa generated -5 yards. Dallas allowed Brady to dink his way down the field on the third drive, but Jayron Kearse picked off a red zone pass to squash the Bucs' scoring opportunity.
The only Bucs drive in the first half that picked up more than one first down ended in a turnover. That's a pretty good way to start a half of playoff football.
"It starts up front -- getting off blocks [and] rallying to the football," McCarthy said. "We really emphasized the finish and squeezing their perimeters. We looked at the passing game and we anticipated them to throw the ball a lot. [For] a lot of the underneath completions, I thought our underneath coverage components were intact and aggressive. We got our hands on a number of balls today. I know we didn't get the takeaways we normally get, but most importantly, we were in position for takeaways. We were all over the football -- we had excellent pressure particularly in key parts of the game on third and fourth downs. I thought the defense played extremely, extremely well on all three levels."
It wasn't until the Cowboys were up 24-0 that the defense began to give the Bucs chances to move the ball. Of course, most observers will blame the Bucs' maligned offense that hasn't clicked all season for the grotesque output, but the Cowboys did what they had to do to ensure Brady remained in Strugglesville.
"Take away the deep shots they got -- we made them earn it every time," Micah Parsons said. "I think that's the key. We made the adjustments, did what we had to do. [We] said they couldn't beat us deep, we executed our game plan for the most part."
Brady went 35-of-66 passing for 351 yards, two late TDs, and an early INT. Of those 66 attempts, just 13 were longer than 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Brady went 3 of 9 for 49 yards on passes of 10-19 yards and 1 of 4 for 30 yards and a TD on passes of 20-plus yards against the Cowboys.
Despite looking banged up going into halftime, Parsons generated a whopping 10 QB pressures Monday night, the most in a playoff game since Next Gen Stats began tracking data. Parsons noted following the game that he felt fine after getting nicked up. The linebacker finished with a sack, two QB hits, two tackles for loss and two passes defended.
The Cowboys were able to get enough pressure early to ensure Brady couldn't puncture an injury-riddled secondary. That task gets harder next week against a much better offensive line in San Francisco. Dallas needs a repeat performance from Parsons and the defense to reach the NFC Championship Game.