The first seven weeks of the season were sort of a mixed bag for the Cowboys as they experienced some ups and a few more downs. The real reasons the Cowboys limped into their bye week at 2-3 were because they weren’t executing their plan for success on either side of the ball.
On offense, the Cowboys were trying to figure out how to replicate their running success of the previous year in the midst of some reshuffling of their offensive line. Everything in the Cowboys’ offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott and that’s coincidental because he runs seemingly through everything.
From sorting out the left guard position to some off-field distractions, the Cowboys just weren’t closing out games as they were outscored 76-44 in the second-half this season. Even so, the Cowboys’ offense began taking shape a month ago. Little by little they were edging toward their old self but they needed a boost. That’s where the 49ers come in, a winless team who had lost the last five games by less than a field goal per game. The Cowboys did what they were supposed to do and gave the 49ers their most lopsided loss of the season 40-10.
The Cowboys wins have come against the 1-6 Giants, 3-4 Cardinals, and 0-7 49ers. Some folks will certainly look at the fact that they’ve lost against every team ranked .500 or above this season and diminish their victories. Be that as it may, the Cowboys still enter one of the tougher parts of their schedule with perhaps the NFL’s most lethal offense and they’re clicking all over.
In the past month, the Cowboys offense has scored 14 touchdowns, has averaged 33+ points per game, almost 450 total yards per game, and is gaining 6.5 yards per snap. All of the above leads the league right now. To couple with those numbers, the Cowboys are also Top-5 in rushing yards per game, rushing yards per play, first downs per game, third-down conversion percentage, and redzone conversion percentage.
These are all signs that their offense has really started to figure it out. This past week, they finally did something they have only done once this season, outscore their opponent in the second half, 23-10. The offense is ready to uphold it’s end of the bargain with the defense, and that’s to keep scoring points.
Dallas has finally found a pass rush and currently rank sixth in the league with 21 sacks on the season. Demarcus Lawrence has 9.5 sacks and three forced-fumbles, not to mention he’s a half-sack away from the leader (in one fewer game). David Irving has three sacks and a forced fumble in just two games. Tyrone Crawford has three sacks as well and is playing very well. Despite the pass rush, the Cowboys were forced to be without their preferred linebacker tandem and the reunion this past week spoke volumes.
In two games without Sean Lee, opposing offenses averaged 35 points, 164 rushing yards, and 238 passing yards per game. In four games with Lee, the defense only gives up 202 passing yards, 91 rushing yards, and 18 points per contest. That includes their week two debacle with the Broncos. The defense gave up 103 rushing yards this past week with Lee and Anthony Hitchens manning the middle. However, they held a pretty good Carlos Hyde to 68 yards total. Having those guys in there made a big difference.
Everything is possible when the Cowboys’ offense sets the tone because it forces the opponent to keep up and that leads to mistakes. The defense was able to take advantage of that as they racked up two takeaways with another on special teams. The Cowboys have to continue to play complementary football with some tough games on the horizon.
Next up, the Cowboys will visit their rival Washington Redskins, who also sit at 3-3. Kirk Cousins is dealing with a banged up offensive line but it won’t stop him from slinging it. Washington is sixth in passing yards, averaging over 250 per game, eighth in total yards at nearly 370, 14th in rushing, and 11th in scoring (23.5 PPG). In two games last season, the Redskins put up nearly 50 points and 940 total yards.
The one area where the Redskins offense really struggles is in the redzone where they are 19th in the league at 53% compared to Dallas who is second. At home, the Redskins are worse, only converting at 44% of the time. Four of their five starting offensive linemen are dealing with aggravating injuries. The Cowboys defense will want to take advantage of that and bring pressure.
Washington’s defense is ninth in sacks as they have 18 on the season. Overall, they’re 19th in pass defense, 25th in scoring, but ninth in rushing. Washington will likely be without their leading sack artist, Preston Smith, but Ryan Kerrigan will be a tough matchup on his own. Washington has 17 total players on their injury report and Dallas only has three potential guys who are likely out.
The Cowboys will need their offense to continue to put the pedal to the metal. If Dallas continues to pour it on, it’ll be very hard for the Redskins to keep up. It’s worked against Cousins in the past because if he’s chasing Dallas’ lead, that’s when he’s prone to mistakes like redzone interceptions. It’s all about taking advantage of your advantages and the Cowboys have quite a few in this one but don’t expect the Redskins to make it easy.
The Cowboys now have to prove that they can beat a contending divisional rival. They have to prove that they can beat a team that doesn’t currently have a losing record (although, if Dallas does win, Washington will then have a losing record and we can start this business all over again next week!).