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Seven things to love and three things to hate in the Cowboys 31-23 victory over the Redskins

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There were some good things and there were some bad things, but mostly good things.

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

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins on Thursday to capture the division lead. The Cowboys have now won three in a row and are gaining some steam as they prepare for the final stretch of the season. It feels good to see the team play well, especially on the offensive side of the ball as we really never know what we’ll get with that group. So, is it time to start getting a little more excited for this Cowboys team? Before we jump to any conclusion, let’s dissect this game closely. Here are seven things to love and three things to hate in the Cowboys 31-23 victory over the Redskins.

LOVE - Start out passing

The Cowboys opened the game with an impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 16-yards touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott. There were a lot of good things on that drive. First-down machine Amari Cooper had two really nice catches that converted third downs. He’s such a reliable target on the money down. Jamize Olawale had a nice first-down reception. Blake Jarwin made a nice first-down reception. While Elliott capped it off, the Cowboys went to the pass on the majority of plays and it just looked as if they caught the Redskins on their heels.

Everyone expects a heavy dose of the run, but when Dallas goes to the air early, things work out well for them. In the Jacksonville game where the Cowboys put up 24 points in the first half, they ran 41 total plays, but only 11 of them were Elliott runs. The offense opens up when the Cowboys prove they can be effective through the air.

HATE - Third and long struggles

Overall, the reserve linemen did a fantastic job of blocking in this game. It’s such a refreshing sight to see so many players stepping up compared to the nightmare we experienced last season. One thing I love about this organization each offseason is they really make an effort trying to right all the wrongs from the previous year and you really have to give them credit for this amazing offensive line depth. Joe Looney has played so well all year, Xavier Su’a-Filo has been great over the last three games, and Cameron Fleming must have done well because they didn’t seem to miss Tyron Smith.

Fleming did make a mistake when he left prematurely to start the Cowboys second drive. No big deal really, except the Cowboys offense are really bad when they get behind the sticks and they ended up going three-and-out. It’s very odd that they struggle so much with this. If they ever get in a third and long situation, they might as well just punt it because nothing they do seems to work. Maybe it’s Dak’s conservative nature. Or maybe it’s that the defense just lays low around the stick. Who knows; I just know the Cowboys offense is really inept in those situations.

LOVE - Stopping Peterson all day

In our “Five things to watch” piece, we noted that when teams stop Adrian Peterson, the Redskins lose. If defenses hold him to 51 yards or less, they win. Well, the Cowboys defense came through as they only allowed Peterson to rush for 35 yards on 12 carries. The Redskins basically had to abandon the run and rely on the arm of Colt McCloy. That’s exactly what the Cowboys wanted them to do as they were able to force three interceptions from the veteran backup.

HATE - First and goal execution

In the past four games, the Cowboys have had the ball 1st and goal at the four-yard line three different times and each time they weren’t able to get a touchdown. That’s right - three times they’ve gotten to the four and no touchdown celebration for them. That’s ridiculous! The Cowboys continue to leave points on the table from squandering these scoring opportunities after moving the ball deep inside their opponents territory and it’s extremely frustrating to watch.

Over the last two games, the Cowboys offense has spun its wheels early in the game, creating games that are closer than they need to be. In each instance, they’ve had to settle for a field goal after failing to convert on a 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line. Both times they’ve gotten deep and all I can think is - run the ball to Zeke, run it to Zeke again, and then if they’re still not in - run it to Zeke one more time. Three plays to get such a short distance should do the trick when you have the league’s leading rusher in the backfield. Am I right?

But the Cowboys don’t always do that. They like to pass the ball. I try not to be that critical because when you look at the tape, it’s obvious the Redskins are loading up ready to stop the run. In fact, the Cowboys had a 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line a few weeks ago against Tennessee and they ran the ball on first down and Zeke had a two-yard loss after tight end Dalton Schultz completely whiffed on his blocking assignment. Prescott threw an interception in the end zone on the very next play.

It’s hard to get mad at Scott Linehan when the play he calls would’ve produced positive results if the team just executed properly. In just the last two games, we’ve seen Cole Beasley drop a pass in the end zone as well as Prescott firing short to Noah Brown. Both these plays turned would-be easy touchdowns into field goals.

Points have been hard to come by for this Cowboys offense this season, so it’s disappointing to see them flame out so deep in their opponents territory.

LOVE - Puntisher

I’m not even lying when I say they should have Cowboys punter Chris Jones hold a clinic on how to properly tackle the ball carrier. We all know about his big hit on Detroit Lions returner Andre Roberts (if you missed it, click here) a few years ago, but he’s not just a hitter. He knows how to get his arms around the returners legs and wrap him up.

LOVE - Hang’n with Mr. Cooper

Troy Aikman made a point of talking about how Cooper has played well, but he hasn’t provided the deep playmaking threat they were hoping for.

“They’re still looking for the deep ball,” Aikman said. “As good as Cooper has been, his longest reception in three and a half games is just 24 yards.”

The irony there is that four plays later, Cooper took a 3rd-and-2 play to the house for a 40-yard touchdown. And two plays later that on the Cowboys next possession, Cooper took off for a 90-yard touchdown. The timing was perfect. It was as if Aikman jinxed it and opened the flood gates. Hey, whatever. I’ll take it.

After the loss to the Tennessee Titans, Aikman said the Cowboys needed a complete overhaul starting at the top. Since then, Dallas has won three straight. Now, he mentions Amari hasn’t been a big play receiver, and then Cooper proceeds to break off two big touchdowns and have the best Cowboys wide receiver performance in six years. Keep saying things like that, Troy. It seems to have the Constanza-effect.

If you think the Cooper trade was a fair deal, you might be right - Oakland might’ve gotten ripped off. The play of Cooper has been fantastic through his first four games with his new team.

And Cooper’s just going to get better as he and Dak develop more and more chemistry.

LOVE - The decision to go for it on fourth down

When you do the math, it doesn’t seem very smart to go for it on fourth down with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. A field goal there would put the Cowboys up by 14 points, which is a great cushion for the defense. Granted, it would require Brett Maher to knock down a 49-yarder, but he’s got the leg to do it. Sure, he’s missed a kick in each of the last four games so nothing is automatic anymore. Would he have made it?

Well, that’s something we’ll never know because Jason Garrett kept his offense on the field and ran the ball up the middle with Zeke. They came up short and the Redskins were still alive.

Some might disagree with that decision, but I’m not one of them. Garrett, who is accused of never being aggressive, was exactly that. And he felt it was a good situation to go for the jugular. If you watch that drive, you’ll see the Cowboys offensive line getting a lot of push against the Redskins interior defense. Garrett believed his troops could get it, so he gave them a shot. It didn’t work out, but I applaud the decision.

What I don’t care for, however, was the decision to not challenge the spot. Now, contrary to what I thought when I initially watched the game, a challenge would not have resulted in a first down as you can see Cooper is still short of the marker.

Photo courtesy of NFL Game Pass

And here is where they spotted it.

Photo courtesy of NFL Game Pass

I would think there’s enough there to move it up slightly even if it didn’t give Dallas the first down. With the lead, the Cowboys aren’t really risking too much should they lose the challenge as those timeouts aren’t as precious as they would be if they were losing. When they measured after the fourth down play, just that extra distance would have been enough to move the chains.

LOVE - Secondary play

The Cowboys secondary is tricky to figure out. Sometimes their coverage on third down is too soft and it wastes all the hard work they do on the previous two downs. But other times they do an outstanding job. It’s hard to understand how they had such a tough time covering the Redskins tight ends. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis had almost 150 yards between them. As bad as that was, it was amazing to see that the secondary’s longest play allowed to a wide receiver was just 17 yards to Josh Doctson. In fact, no other wide receiver had a play over 10 yards. That’s impressive.

The Cowboys defense had three picks on the day (albeit, one of them came from defensive lineman, DeMarcus Lawrence), they should’ve had more. A ball stayed up in the air for a long time after McCoy doink a pass of Tyrone Crawford’s head. Xavier Woods jumped in front of a pass in the first half, but couldn’t come down with the pick. And Chidobe Awuzie was close to having an interception in the end zone after Leighton Vander Esch deflected a pass as McCoy was scrambling to his right. Three picks is good, but it could have been more.

The Redskins receiving group is not good, but the Cowboys defensive backs did a solid job keeping the Redskins passing game from doing any damage.

HATE - The kick/punt returners

I totally get why the team traded him away. Where was he going to fit as a wide receiver on this team? Plus, they took a flyer on defensive tackle Jihad Ward and although it didn’t work, it was worth a shot.

But if they had it to do over again, I would like to see Switzer still in a Cowboys uniform for no other reason than to return kicks. Last Thanksgiving, he electrified the crowd at AT&T with a huge punt return for a touchdown. It would be great to have him now as Cole Beasley and Jourdan Lewis do absolutely nothing for the team as returners. At least with Switzer, there’s always a chance he could take it to the house. And that might not seem like enough of a reason to keep a roster spot, but nothing Lance Lenoir is doing is helping the team. Between whiffing on tackles or hitting players way late while they’re out of bounds handing the ball to the ref, I think we could do without that. The Cowboys could definitely make room for Switz.

LOVE - The kettle celebration

Zeke jumping in the kettle a couple years ago was hilarious. How could you not love that? Of course, it came with an unsportsmanlike penalty and I’m sure he’s been talked to about it to where he promised he wouldn’t do it again.

Well, he kept his promise.

He scored a touchdown and instead of jumping in, he made a donation of $21 into the kettle. But then later, he made a bigger donation. A 238-pound donation in fact. While Zeke didn’t jump in the kettle himself, he felt it was necessary to put Dak in. Epic. I love those guys.

I have a tough time understanding why the NFL disapproves of this. It makes zero sense. No players are being taunted. It’s not derogatory by any means. It’s fun and the fans love it. Seems like a perfect type of celebration to me.