The quickest way to make fans feel better after losing two-straight close games is a convincing victory. The Dallas Cowboys did just that as they smoked the San Francisco 49ers, 40-10 on Sunday. The offense put up over 500 yards. The defense had five sacks and three takeaways. It was a complete game from both sides of the ball for four quarters of football. You couldn’t ask for a better performance. There are plenty of things to be excited about and here are my 10 thoughts on the Cowboys blowout victory.
1. The offensive line is coming together
It was said that there was going to be some growing pains as the Cowboys sorted how the bits and pieces to replace Ron Leary and Doug Free. It wasn’t surprising that the team endured some hiccups until the right guys were in place and chemistry was developed. It was surprising however, that they struggled to run the ball as much as they did early on. In the first three games of the season, the Cowboys averaged 3.8 yards per rushing attempt.
Things have improved dramatically over the last three games. During that span, the Cowboys are averaging 5.9 yards per carry. With three-straight 30+ point performances by the offense, clearly things are humming again. Jonathan Cooper looks to be the answer at left guard as he played his best game of his career in Dallas. He did a great job executing blocks in the second level and was running downfield making a block on that huge screen play that sprung Ezekiel Elliott for a 72-yard touchdown.
Fans have been shaking their head about how the Cowboys handled the offensive line situation over the offseason, but it appears things are starting to come together nicely now.
2. Ezekiel Elliott is a superstar
Zeke or no Zeke, that is the question. It’s one that has been on the minds of Cowboys fans since the onset of the season once the news originally broke that the league suspended him for six games. And it’s something that will continue to linger for at least another week as we all wait to here the outcome of the next check-in point.
With the way the offensive line is playing now, all is not lost should something happen to Elliott so there would be no reason to jump off the ledge. What would be lost however, is the awesome playmaking ability of Zeke and that was on full display against the 49ers. Elliott was able to kick it into another gear on several plays Sunday and good things happen when he is able to do that. He had lots of space against San Francisco and he took full advantage with 219 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.
Some people have suggested that Elliott has lost a step from how he looked last season. But the reality of it is that he just hasn’t had much room to use that extra step early on, but based on what we saw on Sunday - he looked every bit as good as he did last season.
3. Pass rush is alive and well
It wouldn’t be a Cowboys game if DeMarcus Lawrence didn’t have a sack. For the sixth-straight game, Lawrence has recorded a sack and now has 9.5 for the season. He also has 27 tackles and three forced fumbles. He’s having an All Pro season and is showing no signs of slowing down. The sack/fumble he had on 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard was a huge play in the game. It put a halt to a scoring opportunity in the red zone that could have narrowed the margin to 20-10 and given the 49ers a spark.
Of course it’s not just Lawrence that is doing the damage. David Irving also has had at least one sack in each game he’s played in this season. The impact he’s made has been felt immediately since he’s returned. In just two games, he has eight tackles, three sacks, two batted balls, and a forced fumble.
With Lawrence and Irving demanding so much attention, other players are getting involved too. Tyrone Crawford had a sack when the 49ers decided to use a tight end to block him. Maliek Collins bull-rushed his blocker into the backfield causing the running back to be tackled for a loss. The Cowboys defensive front is playing extremely well this season which cannot be overstated considering how much of a liability they’ve been in past seasons.
4. Prescott is making great decisions
When your first two passes of the game get batted at the line of scrimmage and force a three-and-out, that’s not a good start. But that was the low point because Dak Prescott would be outstanding from that point on. For the third-straight game, Prescott threw three touchdowns. But this time he did it while only throwing 25 passes. I haven’t seen a better placed ball that what I saw when he threw that touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
While his arm was doing great things, it is so exciting when Prescott decides to use his legs to make a big play. He had a 13-yard run to erase a second and long, he had a nice third down run where he extended his arm for a first down, and then there was that beautiful quarterback draw where he just waltzed into the end zone untouched. For the third time in four games, Prescott has rushed for a touchdown.
5. Heath is a special teams ace
We all love the Jeff Heath that plays special teams. And it’s no secret that the love is not the same when it comes to the defensive version of Heath. While he did have a nice tackle for a loss, it was the same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to what he provides on defense.
But on this day, Heath was asked to add another dimension to his special teams play by stepping in for an injured Dan Bailey. Heath would shank an extra point, doink one of the goal post, and then eventually split it right through the uprights. The Cowboys would never attempt a field goal in the game, but as luck would have it - they wouldn’t have to. The Cowboys scored six touchdowns on the day as every Prescott-led drive in the red zone would end in a touchdown.
While field goal kicking never became an issue, he would still have quite the workload as a kicker. The downside of scoring six touchdowns is that the team is kicking off a lot. Five times he would be called on to kickoff and while it was squibbly at times, he got the job done.
- Average starting field position with Bailey kicking off = 24 yard line
- Average starting field position with Heath kicking off = 23.4 yard line
Not too shabby.
6. Hitchens and Lee are big difference makers
So much is made of how important Sean Lee is to this defense and rightfully so. But what Anthony Hitchens brought to the defense on Sunday was equally vital. He looked like he did back before he was injured. The Cowboys run defense still had some holes as containing the 49ers running backs to just 73 yards was a little misleading. Operating with a negative game script, the 49ers were forced to air it out a lot. But while there were some good runs by the 49ers, there were also some good stops by the Cowboys defense. Lee and Hitchens combined for five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. These plays put the 49ers in unfavorable down and distances and forced them to be one-dimensional. And the Cowboys defense looks completely different in those type of situations.
When I look at Lawrence and Irving and try to figure out which upcoming free agent is more valuable to the defense - it’s a hard choice. But they aren’t the only guys who are important to retain. Hitchens will be a free agent as well. The Cowboys have some big pieces to their defense in the final year of their contract.
7. Jaylon and Taco made plays
It was so exciting to see Jaylon Smith on that sack fumble play. It would have been even more exiting if Crawford didn’t jump on the ball because Orlando Scandrick was looking to scoop it up and take it to the house. Some proclaimed that a reduction of workload would help increase the quality of play for Smith. That argument is off to a good start as he looked sharp.
And while he didn’t make a play worth celebrating, Taco Charlton had a deflected pass near the end of the game on a 4th-and-1 play that caused a turnover of downs. He also got pressure on another play. Hey, at least it’s something.
8. Pet cat’s galore
How cool is it that the first time Cooper Rush is put on the active roster just so happens to be a game where there was some garbage time and got to see him in action. Granted, he only threw two passes, but he had a nice 15-yard scamper on third down to keep the chains moving. And on the very next play, Rod Smith took off for 45 yards to the 49ers 15-yard line. Just like that, these two fan-favorites put the Cowboys in scoring position.
It may seem odd to some of us as to how the coaching staff has handled the Darren McFadden and Kellen Moore active/inactive situations, but it’s clear there is a method to their madness.
9. Muscle in the middle
While the Rush active decision was a pleasant surprise, seeing both Benson Mayowa and Damontre Moore inactive was unexpected. Instead, the Cowboys relied on both Brian Price and Richard Ash to provide some extra push on the interior line. The Cowboys are healthy on the edge and after the retirement of Stephen Paea, they’re lean in the middle, so there is some solid rationale for their decision.
On the 49ers last drive of the game, Ash was able to get pressure the quarterback and deflect a pass up in the air. Price had a chance to catch the ball, but it looked like he was wearing oven mitts and couldn’t come down with the ball. It was great to see some good play from these deep roster guys.
10. Lewis didn’t play well
The Cowboys third-round draft pick, Jourdan Lewis, has been a bright spot for this defense thus far, but on this day he struggled. There were times he over-pursued and took a bad angle leading to more yards after the catch. He got beat on a deep pass that luckily missed the mark. And he continues to not get himself turned around in time to make a play on the ball in the end zone.
A better quarterback would have exploited Lewis on Sunday. The rookie agrees and recognizes he didn’t play well.
Great dub, terrible performance. Gotta keep building. #GoBoys— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) October 22, 2017
At least he picked a good time to not bring his “A” game.
Those are the things I observed in the game. What things stood out to you the most?