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Five Observations On The Cowboys 27-23 Victory Over The Redskins

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It was a close game that went down to the wire, but the Cowboys held on for an important victory in the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It was another close game for the Dallas Cowboys. The idea of starting the season 0-2 crept into the minds of fans as the Cowboys never were able to take control of the game. Last week they wasted a good offensive performance by settling for field goals. Today, they found the end zone, but the defense was having trouble stopping the Washington Redskins’ offense. In the end, the Cowboys made enough plays to pull out the win, but there is a lot to learn from this game. Here are five observations from the Cowboys victory against the Redskins.

Red zone efficiency improved

Just like Week 1, the Cowboys offense put together five scoring drives. But this week, they were more efficient in the red zone.

  • Last week: one TD, four FGs, 19 points
  • This week: three TDs, two FGs, 27 points

Finishing off drives can be the difference between winning and losing and the Cowboys did better this week. The play-calling looked sharp as Scott Linehan would have the Cowboys zigging when the Redskins were zagging. It was a very good balance of offense (30 runs, 34 passes).

The Cowboys still seemed confused when they got inside the 10-yard line. On their opening drive, after having a 1st and goal at the five-yard line, they ran three straight passing plays. How do you not go to your bread and butter running attack in that situation? The Cowboys are still coming up empty when they try to throw it in the end zone. Dallas has ten total scores so far in 2016, but none of them are receiving TDs.

Making good use of the bootleg

Defenses want to cheat on the run. After what the New York Giants were able to do against the run last week, the Redskins wanted to join the run-stopping party. They were primed to get after Ezekiel Elliott, which included attacking from all angles. So when edge rushers darted inside, they were sitting ducks to a Dak Prescott bootleg.

Prescott has great mobility and the coaches made sure to put those skills to the test. And it wasn’t by orchestrating designed runs for Prescott, but rather allowing him to roll around a bootleg pass. The Cowboys offense would have success with this multiple times and had two of their biggest plays come off of these calls.

Dak would hit Geoff Swaim on fourth down play in the first half. Swaim would get loose and truck his way 28 yards down the field to the two-yard line, setting up an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown.

Speaking of Swaim, the Cowboys second-year tight would make another big play when he leveled DeAngelo Hall on a bootleg pass to Jason Witten. This allowed the speedy Witten to gain 29 yards. It was fantastic. Here, see for yourself.

The Cowboys might have known what they were doing when the traded away a sixth-round draft pick to acquire Swaim.

Prescott would finish 22 for 30 with 292 yards. He kept his poise and made some key third down passes. He’s extending plays with his legs and making good throws with his arm. He has yet to throw a touchdown in his NFL career, but he’s also never thrown a pick.

Bounce back for Dez, mixed bag for Zeke

The Cowboys needed to find a way to get their big playmakers more involved. After a one-catch performance last week, the Cowboys star receiver would have seven catches for 102 yards. While some were tuning in to see the Dez vs. Josh Norman battle, this game isn’t about egos. The Cowboys would look for favorable matchups and that meant attacking Bashaud Breeland. The offense would have Dez work more routes over the middle and it worked out nicely.

For Ezekiel Elliott, it wasn’t so great. He did improve his yards per carry as he churned out 80 yards on 21 carries. You could see him showing more patience before he hit the holes and it was resulting in better gains. And he did have a nice 21-yard run that helped the Cowboys find the end zone on their opening drive in the second half.

But then all of a sudden he couldn’t hold on to the ball. He would fumble twice, losing one of them. The Cowboys would then turn to Alfred Morris for the rest of the game.

This was never an issue for Elliott in college and could just be bad day for the rookie in terms of hanging on to the ball, but it’s something that will definitely stick with him going forward.

The question around the water cooler this week will be - is Zeke going to lose touches?

Defense still giving up big plays

The Cowboys had a minus three differential in big plays against the Giants and it hurt. The Cowboys would again have a minus three differential against the Redskins. While the offense would improve their own big play production (four big plays, three passing, one running), the real problem this week was on defense. The Redskins would have eight big plays (five passing and three running).

The Cowboys gave up a 28-yard catch to DeSean Jackson, a 14-yard TD run to Matt Jones, and a 57-yard catch to Josh Doctson when the secondary got confused with their coverage assignments. They also gave up big plays to both the Redskins tight ends, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. While Reed’s playmaking ability isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, the success of Davis was a little surprising. The Redskins TEs would combine for 10 catches for 121 yards.

And things could have been even worse had Cousins not misfired on a couple throws where his receiver was wide open. This is definitely a cause for concern for the defense. Big plays flip the field position and generate momentum. Even the Redskins last drive of the game made fans uneasy after Chris Thompson took a short pass for 38 yards. Just like that, the Redskins had hope again.

But the defense also came up with some big plays

They may have looked horrible at times, but the defense came through with several key stops. Things were looking bleak when the Redskins drove the ball down to the six-yard line with a three point lead in the fourth quarter. A touchdown would have made things real difficult for the Cowboys. But Washington would come away with nothing as Barry Church would pick off Cousins in the end zone.

The Cowboys would mount an 80-yard TD drive following the interception, but once again would need the defense to make a stop. This time, Justin Durant deflected a fourth down pass with 1:56 left in the game.

The Cowboys offense would go three-and-out and force the Redskins to use all of their timeouts before they attempted to go 90 yards for the game winning score. Once again the defense would need to make stops. Tyrone Crawford would sack Cousins that would set the Redskins back eight yards and burn some precious time off the clock.

If you were wondering where Crawford was this game, it might have been hard to find him as he was used on the edge at times. On the sack, the Cowboys actually had four defensive tackles (if you count former DT, Jack Crawford) rushing the passer. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.

You have to credit the defense for holding strong. It wasn’t pretty at times, but they kept fighting. After the failed onside kick, the defense held the Redskins to 27 yards, holding them to a field goal. And after Zeke’s fumble, the defense held them to 30 yards, forcing another field goal. It would have been real easy to collapse there.

What stood out to you the most about this game?