Well that was nice. What was the matter with the Cowboys the past two weeks? They weren't playing the Jaguars obviously! After all the worry and indigestion that follows a two-game losing streak Dallas easily took care of business, and beat the Jags in a rout. Here are some random thoughts:
1. Everybody's Free: While Jeremy Parnell filled in admirably, the offense is a different animal with Doug Free, (and Ron Leary), healthy and in the lineup. The biggest impact is in the running game. On the teams first three plays, (two runs and a screen), the Cowboys went right behind Free and Martin and picked up 43 yards. All told Dallas ran 12 times to the right side and averaged 7.7 yards per carry.
It was a great game for the offensive line. If the unit has a weakness it's been in pass protection, (not that they've been bad, just not as good as in run blocking). But against a good Jacksonville pass rush, the line did a great job keeping Romo clean; he was only hit three times on 27 dropbacks.
2. X Marks the Spot: Dez Bryant had a pretty good day. By now you know the numbers; six receptions 158 yards, two touchdowns. It was his second biggest receiving day ever; and he did it all in just one quarter, having caught all of his passes in the 2nd.
Even more impressive than the raw numbers, is how he got them. This game was a little bit of everything; his first touchdown was just a short pass in the flats, but he broke one tackle, got in the open field, starting making people miss, broke a few arm tackles and took it 35 yards to the house. His last touchdown he beat his man off the line on a go route; he did an incredible job getting off the press, made a nice catch, broke a few more tackles, touchdown.
But perhaps his most impressive catch was the first play of the third drive of the 2nd quarter. It was a deep comeback route for a 17-yard completion. What was so impressive was the route running; an area Dez has taken a lot of flack for recently. But this was beautiful; his break was so crisp and clean you couldn't even see the defender on screen when the catch was made. Also of note; Dez's six receptions came on eight targets. That's a catch percentage of 75%. Not too shabby.
3. They Grow Up So Fast..: A couple of great plays by a trio of second year guys made a big difference, but might have gone unnoticed among more highlight worthy things.
The first came right after Cole Beasley fumbled the ball late in the 3rd quarter. Jacksonville had good field position, and was facing a 3rd and three. The Jag's TE runs a nice little stick route, running just to the 1st down marker and turning around. It's an easy pass, but J.J. Wilcox reads it perfectly and comes flying in to knock the ball down. It was really nice to see as we haven't gotten to see a lot of Wilcox in coverage. Jacksonville is forced to punt and Dez scores his 2nd touchdown on the next play.
Early in the 3rd quarter Joseph Randle hits a nice lane and bursts through into the secondary. After a nice cut he looks to get tackled at the 10-yard line by Jacksonville #35 when Terrance Williams comes flying into the screen, blows up #35 and springs Randle to pick up the extra 10 yards and a touchdown. Great run by Randle, and an even more impressive display of downfield blocking by Terrance Williams.
4. Boom Goes the Dynamite!: If you look at the stats, this game should have been much closer than it was. Dallas had more total yards and led time of possession, but didn't dominate either. Jacksonville had more first downs.
But Dallas won in two important categories; turnovers and big plays.
For the first time in the past two games Dallas won the turnover battle, three to one. We scored an easy touchdown off the first turnover, gave the ball back with a fumble after the second turnover, and our final turnover came with the Jaguars in the redzone. Meanwhile the Jag's followed their lone turnover by going three and out.
Dallas also had more explosive plays. The Jaguars scored their first touchdown on a 32-yard run, but only had three other big plays. A 51-yard pass to Cecil Shorts was followed by a lost fumble on the next play. Another 31-yard catch to Shorts went for naught as the Jaguars went for it on fourth down a few plays later and came up short. Finally they had a 30+ yard catch late in the fourth on their garbage time scoring drive.
Dallas meanwhile had three scoring plays of 35+ yards, and DeMarco Murray had another three runs of 15+ yards. And we needed the big plays. The offense was erratic, and only converted 4/12 on third downs. We had trouble consistently moving the ball, but made up for it with big, explosive plays.
5. Another Brick in the Wall: Another good outing by the defense, who gave up seven points on the Jaguars first drive, but didn't give up another score until garbage time. This was a total group effort; the secondary was doing a great job of jumping routes, the linebackers played well, and while I didn't think the defensive line played as well as last week, they did a great job against the run outside of Denard Robinson's one long touchdown.
Perhaps most importantly, Dallas's pass rush got home four times. Coming into the game Dallas only had 12 sacks; meaning this game is now accounting for 25% of our total sacks. Again, it was a total team effort, the defensive line accounted for two sacks, with another coming from our linebackers and one coming from our secondary. As mentioned earlier, we also picked up another three turnovers. Just a dominant performance by the defense.
What's It All Mean?
Hard to draw any big lessons from this win, coming as it did from a bad Jaguars team. It does mean though that we're going to enter our bye week at 7-3, and we've now pushed our road record to 4-0, (we're the only undefeated road team). Our team is getting healthy, we're entering our bye week, and the Cowboys our looking to be in great shape to make a big playoff push.