After a disappointing loss against the Tennessee Titans, many felt the air had been let out of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season. Don’t look now, but the Cowboys have now won three in a row and are in first place in the NFC East. With a big win over the former division-leading Washington Redskins, the Cowboys have eclipsed .500 for the first time this season with a 6-5 record. It was a great way to spice up our Thanksgiving and here are ten thoughts on the Cowboys big win.
1. Another starter down on the OLine
It was surprising to see Cameron Fleming trot on the field to open the game. Left tackle Tyron Smith has a stinger and was listed as questionable.
Tyron is standing on the Dallas sideline, in uniform but without a helmet. He went through pregame warmups, but I’m guessing the Cowboys just didn’t feel comfortable putting him out there #cowboyswire— David Helman (@HelmanDC) November 22, 2018
We all remember what happened last year when Smith went down so it was a little unsettling to see him on the sideline. That meant the Cowboys started this Thanksgiving game with three reserves on the offensive line - Fleming, Xavier Su’a-Filo (making his third start), and Joe Looney (whose filled in for Travis Frederick all year). It seemed like a recipe for disaster, right? Wrong.
The offensive line did a great job. Sure, Dak Prescott was sacked four times (all in the first half), but a couple of those were coverage sacks. The running game was firing as they churned out 146 yards on the ground against a tough Redskins front. The Cowboys compiled over 400 yards of offense for only the third time this season.
And then later in the game, Fleming would exit the game with a leg injury and rookie Connor Williams stepped in at left tackle for a spell. Props to everyone for stepping up and playing well. Without solid line play, this offense would’ve been in trouble.
2. Best 21 bucks ever spent
When Ezekiel Elliott jumped into the Salvation Army kettle in 2016 it had to be one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Of course, the referees didn’t see it that way and he was flagged for unsportsmanlike.
Zeke had another opportunity to celebrate a 16-yard touchdown run, but instead of jumping into it, he made a donation instead. He would put $21 into the kettle. I’m not sure if that will be considered a prop or not to where he gets fined, but it’s a crying shame if it is.
It was great to see them march down the field and score on their opening drive. What a sight for sore eyes.
That TD by the Cowboys on their opening drive was the team's first since Week 2 when Dak Prescott found Tavon Austin behind the NY Giants defense.— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) November 22, 2018
As great as it was to see Zeke jump in the kettle, this new kettle celebration was one for the ages. For those of you saying that Zeke is carrying this team, you’re right. We have physical evidence now.
3. Goal line offense is terrible
I don’t have the official stat, but if feels like the Cowboys offense is one of the worst teams in the league when they have first and goal inside the five-yard line. I can’t remember watching a team struggle as often as Dallas has when they get that deep. And it’s a variety of reasons. Sometimes Cole Beasley drops a sure touchdown. Sometimes Dak Prescott is short on his throw to a wide open Noah Brown. And sometimes it’s some questionable play-calling that never puts the ball in Ezekiel Elliott’s hands.
The Cowboys squandered a great opportunity late in the first half when they had first and goal at the four-yard line, but had to settle for a field goal when they went backwards.
Which brings me to...
4. Dak can’t keep taking sacks
Prescott has terrible awareness sometimes when he’s running around in the pocket. Not only does he hold the ball too long, but he seems to completely forget that defenders are right on his tail. This has resulted in several sack/fumbles this season. But even when he hangs on to the ball, the damage can be too hard to overcome. On a second-and-goal play with just under two minutes left in the first half, Dak was sacked for a 13-yard loss, turning a great scoring opportunity into a difficult situation.
On the Cowboys very next possession, they were again making a push to get points after Dak hit Amari Cooper for a 14-yard gain that game them first and 10 on the Redskins 46. But then two plays later, Prescott was sacked for a seven-yard loss. Once again, the chances of getting more points dropped considerably.
Dak needs to have better situational awareness. Sacks are crippling at those points in the game. He needs to get rid of the ball and live to fight another day. He’s done this several times throughout the course of the season and it absolutely kills drives and sometimes costs them points.
5. Beasley’s decision making on punt returns
Cole Beasley kept making the wrong decisions when fielding punts deep in his own territory. The first time he let the ball bounce and the ball trickled down to the four-yard line. The Cowboys offense would go three-and-out, giving Washington great field position. The Redskins would score a touchdown on the next play.
Beasley apparently didn’t want to make that mistake again so he decided to fair catch a punt inside the 10-yard line. The Cowboys would start at their own eight-yard line, go three-and-out, and again give the Redskins great field position. Washington would again score a touchdown.
6. Amari’s big breakout
So much is made about whether Cooper was worth giving up a first-round pick or not. While he’s been effective coming into this game, this performance certainly makes us fans feel good about the decision.
Not only is Cooper a great route runner, but apparently he’s also an excellent free throw shooter. Markelle Fultz approves.
Markelle enjoyed Amari Cooper's celebration— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 23, 2018
(via MarkelleFultz/Snapchat) pic.twitter.com/KcaqmbWn3o
The Cowboys front office has been scratching and clawing to find viable receiving options, but they might have stumbled upon something great with Cooper.
Amari Cooper's 176 yards receiving in the most for a Cowboys receiver since Dez Bryant went for 224 against New Orleans on Dec. 23, 2012.— Michael Strawn (@LifeInCharts) November 23, 2018
Remember earlier when I said Dak needs to stop dancing around in the pocket and get rid of the ball? Well, scratch that. That was the pie talking.
Sometimes Dak does things that really makes us angry. But the kid is a playmaker and he showed it once again.
This is one of the greatest plays of Dak Prescott's career. pic.twitter.com/SDcgTg3dEy— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 23, 2018
This is the sixth game Dak hasn’t turned the ball over either with an interception or fumble lost. The Cowboys have won every single one of those games. Great job, Dak.
8. Brown balls out
The Cowboys defense had a season-high three takeaways. DeMarcus Lawrence got his hands up to tip a pass and was able to keep his concentration and come down with the pick. He even flashed a nice spin move on the return for style points. Xavier Woods came down with a deflection himself when Chidobe Awuzie was able to get his hands on it. And Anthony Brown kicked things off when he picked off Colt McCoy on the Redskins opening drive. I just love it when the cornerbacks get their heads turned around to where they can make a play on the ball.
Brown also made a nice sack in the fourth quarter. It was a great game for a player that has been trying to recapture his rookie performance. A lot is made about what a great season Byron Jones is having, but it’s good to see the depth corners holding their own. It’s way better than the burnt toast that Orlando Scandrick is providing in Kansas City.
9. The new triplets?
Ezekiel Elliott went over 120 yards for the third straight game and is now the NFL’s rushing leader. Dak Prescott threw for a season-high 289 yards, two touchdowns, and added a big-time run for a touchdown. And Amari Cooper had more receiving yards than any Cowboys receiver over the last six years. It was a great day for the Cowboys trio of offensive stars.
The Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East after their 31-23 win against Washington thanks to the new Triplets. Amari Cooper has 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott had 121 yards rushing and a touchdown. Dak Prescott had 289 yards passing and two...— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) November 23, 2018
Ezekiel Elliott is 23. Amari Cooper is 24. Dak Prescott is 25.
That is your future, Cowboys fans.
10. Happy Thanksgiving
As if we aren’t filling up on enough deserts, the Cowboys gave us another great treat with a big win. Your 2018 Cowboys are now in first place in the NFC East. We’ve been through a lot up until this point and we still have some more challenges ahead, but for now, it has to feel good to know the Cowboys control their own destiny.
Dallas will have another big game next Thursday when they host the New Orleans Saints, but it’s going to be a fun seven days leading up to it. Anything can happen and if the team keep improving, it should make the holiday season a fun one for us Cowboys fans.