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Cowboys defense created a mirage for the offensive effort on Thursday night

The Cowboys 38 points is great and made us feel good, but was it for real?

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Much has been made about how ineffective the Dallas Cowboys had been over their initial three-game stretch without Ezekiel Elliott.

Dallas failed to reach double digits in points for three straight weeks, a first in franchise history, and had been astoundingly awful in the second halves of games. That all seemed to get better on Thursday night against Washington.

Except what if it didn’t? What if the Cowboys were very similar offensively in yards?

The total number of offensive yards isn’t indicative of an entire performance, but it is strange to look at that list and know the Cowboys scored 7, 9, 6, and 38 points respectively in that stretch.

Dallas scored on Thursday night, they even got a Ryan Switzer return touchdown, but they didn’t really seem to create sustainable scoring, if that makes sense. They’re still operating at a pretty low frequency offensively, one that hasn’t been reached in some time.

The Cowboys defense is playing well enough to win games, and that was evidenced against the Redskins.

The first touchdown of the night for the Cowboys came on a drive that started on their own 41-yard line, the FG that followed started at the Washington 19, their final touchdown started on the Washington 11-yard line, and we’ve already mentioned the special teams touchdown.

That is 24 points that are, for most playoff-type offenses, fairly easy to come by, or at least they should be. Much of who the Cowboys were offensively Thursday night was a systemic error of who the Redskins were overall.

It’s strange, isn’t it? That Dak Prescott only threw for 102 yards, his lowest output of the season, and the Cowboys scored the second-most points that they did all year?

Dak has six games where he has failed to reach 200 yards passing this season, and while the quality of his yards are more important than the quantity, the Cowboys defense and special teams are what’s carrying this team right now.

Washington’s first five possessions of the game resulted in three punts, an interception, and a fumble. That interception was a bit of fortuitous luck in that the ball was tipped, but football is a game of breaks.

The overall design of the Dallas Cowboys is so that the team isn’t meant to ever rely on their defense. Rod Marinelli’s “bend but don’t break” mantra is only ever meant to buy you time, not a win. They’re doing that, and they have been over this whole stretch, which is evidenced by what they’ve done in first halves.

Think of the makeup of the Cowboys as a tricycle. The offense is the front wheel, and the defense and special teams comprise the back ones. They’re trying to drive up a mountain.

Offense moves this team directionally, and theoretically steers it to the victory. Defensively the Cowboys are only ever built to help push where they’re going, but they need the front wheel to drive.

In the three-game losing streak, the Cowboys were generating enough force to move their tricycle, but the front wheel stalled and they slipped all the way down. Thursday night against Washington, the Cowboys offense did barely just enough to move the overall machine over the hump of victory.

That’s what the Cowboys offense did, barely just enough. They took advantage of the opportunities that were more friendly (although they didn’t others in the first quarter), and it all came together the way it’s designed to.

38 points may look like a lot, but reality is the Cowboys offense was on par with who they’d been for the three weeks entering the Washington game. Thankfully, the back wheels generated a bit more force, and offensively they were able to do the bare minimum of work required.

Hopefully moving forward, no pun intended, the offense will start steering again. For now, they’re not.

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