“Dallas Week” began with low expectations in Washington, and ended with the Football Team’s biggest win of the year; actually, the 25-3 victory was the team’s first 20-point win in almost four years (Christmas Eve saw the Burgundy and Gold beat Chicago 41-21).
Oh, the heady days of 8-6-1, Kirk Cousins & Mack Brown! Before we get ahead of ourselves, these Cowboys are not the ones that won the division two years ago or even the ones that finished 8-8 in 2019. As in, Mike McCarthy’s team is on pace to allow 555 points this year (they allowed 645 over the past two seasons combined).
This “Dallas” more resembles the show post-dream season than during its sweet spot (Seasons 2 through 7). Speaking of dreams, did Sunday’s win really happen? So many things turned out well for the Burgundy & Gold while things haven’t looked this bad for the Cowboys since 2015, when Tony Romo’s broken collarbone turned a 2-0 start into a 4-12 last place finish.
Kyle Connects — Kyle Allen completed 15 of 25 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and most importantly no interceptions or fumbles. He also averaged over 10 yards per completed pass for the first time in three starts. Allen was sacked twice but also scrambled for a first down on the possession that helped turn this game into a rout.
Running to Daylight … and Production — The team tallied 208 yards on the ground, not just 2020s top total so far, but more than their previous three games combined. Rookie Antonio Gibson ran for 128 yards on 20 carries and scored the first touchdown of the day. And once they had a double-digit lead, they ran early and often — especially on third down — after intermission. J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber combined for 69 yards on 15 attempts and came through multiple times on third down.
Better to Receive — Terry McLaurin tallied seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, giving him 43 receptions for 577 yards on the season and adjusting his new pace to 98 and 1,319. His 52-yard TD catch was the first time he saw the end zone since week two. Logan Thomas (four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown) remains the same go-to option as when Dwayne Haskins was the starter, only now he’s getting downfield a little more often. Is he a first string tight end on a playoff contender? No, but he’s fitting in as a solid secondary tight end who doesn’t make mistakes that hurt the running game while being able to make plays in the passing game when called upon. Those two guys combined for 77% of the team’s catches.
Third and … Much Better — The Burgundy & Gold moved the chains on nine of 15 third downs, their best showing of 2020. Play-call breakdown was 10 passes and five runs: Allen completed seven of eight passes with five conversions while getting sacked once and scrambling once for a first down. His top target? McLaurin (four passes thrown to with three catches and one conversion), while Thomas and McKissic each notched two conversions and were targeted twice apiece. On the ground, Barber moved the chains twice on three rushes while McKissic converted on one of his two rushes. Eight of the 15 third downs were on the Cowboys’ side of the field; not converting is a little easier when you aren’t punting from your own end zone. Yardage breakdown: 4-6 on short-yardage, 2-4 on medium yardage (4 to 6 yards needed), 3-5 on long-yardage. The last two weeks the offense has faced 30 third downs and 63% of them needed fewer than seven yards. That’s progress.
D earns an A — Conversely, the defense that has had issues getting off of the field at times this fall did so consistently, holding the Cowboys to 3-15 on third down. While the Cowboys were working with backup quarterback Andy Dalton (he’s led the team to 13 points over two games), the WFT defense did hold them to their lowest point total since Week 15 in 2018 (a 23-0 shutout by Indianapolis). Chase Young led the way with six tackles, and while the rookie didn’t notch a sack he did warrant enough attention to allow his teammates through for six sacks (most since the they had eight in the season opener); Montez Sweat recorded two of those to give the second-year pro five on the season (tying him for seventh in the NFL). Linebacker Cole Holcomb had one sack in his five tackles while also tallying an interception in the red zone at the end of the first half on the Cowboys’ best drive of the afternoon to squash what would be their final legitimate scoring threat (Dallas would gain 30 yards on 19 carries after intermission).
Special Situations — Dustin Hopkins made both of his extra point attempts and 1-2 field goal tries, connecting from 30 yards while missing from 44. Hopkins is 8-12 on the season and 3-7 from 40+ yards. Tree Way punted twice, and while he averaged just 38 yards each punt landed inside the Cowboys’ 20-yard line. Kickoff coverage was not ideal; Tony Pollard had returns of 67 and 30 yards with his first return setting up the Cowboys’ lone points of the afternoon (they moved the ball seven yards on three plays after starting on the Washington 34). The WFT is still searching for a game-breaker: Danny Johnson averaged 19.5 yards on two kickoff returns and had a 3-yard punt return.
Flying Flags — Four penalties for 30 yards, which gives the Burgundy and Gold 34 on the season (12th fewest in the NFL) for 277 yards (11th fewest). Sunday’s flags were for delay of game, encroachment (Daron Payne), defensive offside (Sweat), and a disqualification for a hit to the head (Jon Bostic). Sweat’s penalty gives him a team-high four. While none of the penalties was backbreaking, Bostic’s flag turned what would have been a 4th & 4 at the Dallas nine into a 1st & 10 at the Cowboys’ 24. Better teams have made the WFT pay for new life this fall.
Digesting the Division — Philadelphia (2-4-1) takes over first place after a 22-21 win over the New York Giants — a game where they scored twice in the fourth quarter after seemingly throwing the game away with an interception in the end zone, a missed field goal, and a failed 4th & goal. The Eagles currently own the 4th seed in the NFC. Washington (2-5) own the tiebreaker with Dallas for second place thanks to their victory over the Cowboys, that win is what gives them 12th place instead of 13th in the conference. The New York Giants (1-6) were a fourth quarter fade from being tied for first (and they would have owned the tiebreaker); instead they’re simply happy to hold the conference tiebreaker against Atlanta so they can occupy 15th place in the NFC. By the way, next Sunday Night’s game between Philly and Dallas will be for the division lead.
East is Least — Having everyone play one another allows a sort of standings welfare: The division’s best week of the year (2-2) improves the NFC Least to 7-20-1. That is easily the worst of all NFL quartets, and unless the division goes 15-21 over the rest of the year the 2020 NFC East will set a league record for futility. The NFC West (19-8) still holds the best record in the NFL with the AFC North (17-8-1 thanks in part to drawing the NFC East). The race between the conferences is now even at 13-13-1 after the NFC won all three games this past week.
Reason #2465 why I don’t gamble … a lot — There’s nothing quite like a Sunday afternoon between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. as the early-afternoon games all come to conclusion. This past week was great- if you had the right teams and went heavy-duty on the underdogs. First, New Orleans beat Carolina 27-24 but failed to cover the -7. Then Buffalo, despite being in control for most of the afternoon, topped the New York Jets 18-10 on six field goals and came up short if you had the Bills -10. Then things got really fun: Tennessee (-1) had a chance to send their game with Pittsburgh into overtime but missed a 45-yard field goal, Atlanta (-1) allowed a touchdown on the final play of the game to fall to Detroit, and Cleveland (-3 ½) took a 37-34 lead over Cincinnati in the final minute but missed the extra point. There’s a reason they build casinos.