One of the NFL's fiercest old-school rivalries--Cowboys versus Indians--was resumed last night under the unflinching glare of Monday Night Football's big lights. As has most frequently been the case in recent contests between these clubs, the game was less a glitzy, prime-time affair than a closely-fought slugfest, in which the Cowboys rallied, three precious points at a time, to come back against a Washington team that, in the third quarter, seemed like they might win going away. But they didn't; as a result, the Cowboys win a home opener for the first time since they moved their home games to Jerryworld in 2009.
A quick take on the game, by the (descending) numbers:
115: Rushing yards by Felix Jones, the vast majority of which came in the second half--and the bulk of that on two big runs, of 29 and 40 yards. Felix has been close to popping one several times this season, but has been tripped up or been unable to make that one cut or break the tackle that would lead to daylight. On his 29-yarder, he did both, cutting behind a block by fullback Tony Fiammetta, juking a Redskins defender, and breaking a tackle at the second level. On the downside, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray produced a measly 11 yards on nine carries. Yeccch...
More numbers after the jump...
88: Before the game, this was almost certainly going to be the most important number for the Cowboys offense--with Miles Austin out, Dez Bryant was going to have to provide a downfield threat for either Jason Witten or the feeble Cowboys running game to function. In the first half, the Dallas aerial attack was inept; ironically, they generated a mere 88 first half yards, only 27 of which went to wide receivers.
In the second half, however, Dez Bryant made a couple of clutch catches on what was clearly a bad leg--the clutchest a shrewd play in which he extended a short pattern when Romo broke the pocket; together they managed a stunning 30-yard first down conversion on a 3rd and 21. He was joined by Laurent Robinson (and, on one play, by Kevin Ogletree); collectively, they helped the Cowboys squeeze out 165 second-half passing yards, every last one of which they needed.
65/ 9/ 3.0: Washington's rushing total, their longest run from scrimmage, and their average yards per carry. The 'Skins were the third rushing-heavy team the Cowboys have played in three weeks this season--and Rob Ryan's charges have held all three well below the century mark. The Shanahans clearly wanted to help out Rex Grossman by establishing the run, and had some success early--particularly in their opening drive. But the Dallas rushing defense figured out what they were trying to do, and the 'Skins running game ground to a halt, such that they only attempted eight second half runs, despite holding the lead for almost the entire half.
22: The formation (2 backs; 2 tight ends) the Cowboys went to in the second half, to great effect. Given the Dallas receiving corps' injuries and general struggles, this formation not only put the best 11 on the field, but forced the 'Skins to respect the run, thus opening up passing lanes that had been clogged in the first half--particularly those protected by linebackers and safeties.
9: Tony Romo. The dude was money, overcoming poor offensive line play and a struggling receiving corps. Yet he made the best of it; as ESPN's NFL analyst Trent Dilfer noted, he "took a real stinky sandwich and made an ice cream cone out of it." I have no idea what that means, but I'm inclined to agree.
6: Field goals by Dan Bailey, a rookie record. If the Cowboys are going to continue to play so many close games--and, until they are healthy again, I think they will--they are going to need a consistent, clutch kicker. Bailey's performance certainly allays concerns about the kicking game for the moment...and can't bode well for David Buehler's tenure in a Cowboys uniform.
4: Number of three-and-outs notched by the Dallas defense. That runs their total for the season to 13. The oft-repeated defensive mantra is "just keep turning the ball back over to the offense." Averaging 4.25 three-and-outs per game in this young season, Ryan's defense is going exactly that.
4: Also the number of times Phil Costa snapped the ball before Tony Romo was ready. As John Gruden said on the national broadcast, "I have never seen this at any level of football." Well, coach, I've coached a couple of pretty bad Pop Warner teams, and neither have I.
3: Sacks by the Cowboys, to extend their league-leading total to 13. The last of these was the biggest: "Almost" Anthony Spencer's strip sack of Rex Grossman with about 30 ticks left in the game.
3: Also the number of times this season Sean Lee has led the team in tackles; he has 31 stops for the season. Tonight, he had a hand in both of the turnovers generated by the Cowboys "D." As he did in game one, against the Jets, Lee showed terrific mobility working the underneath zones, and stepped in to pick off a Grossman pass on a short crossing pattern. Unlike his week one pick, Lee was not able to take this one to the one-yard line--which, at that time, seemed like the only way Dallas was going to score a touchdown.
1: The Cowboys place in the NFC East standings, honors they share with the Redskins and Giants. For this week, at least, all is well in the football universe: the Cowboys sit atop the NFL's most important division, and the Eagles are in last place. Nice.