Man, did we need that one.
The Dallas Cowboys are back at .500 after edging out the Detroit Lions 26-24 on Sunday. It was a nail-biter after the Lions jumped ahead 24-23 with just over two minutes to go in the game as fans everywhere were feeling that sucker punch that appeared to be the 2018 season. Then suddenly that gut-wrenching feeling turned to elation as the Cowboys answered with an impressive drive and a fantastic finish. The offense showed life, the defense showed weakness, and the special teams was special when it counted the most. Here are my 10 thoughts on the Cowboys win over the Lions.
1. Career high for Zeke
When your backs are up against the wall, that’s when it’s time to lean heavily on your best playmaker. And that’s exactly what the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday. Zeke not only rush 25 times for 152 yards (6.1 average), but he added four catches for 88 yards for a career-high 240 overall yards.
The ground game was strong, but Elliott came away with two big plays as a receiver. Late in the first half, Zeke took a screen play to the house for a 38-yard touchdown. Then, he struck again late in the second half, on a wheel route when he made a great over the shoulder catch for a 34-yard gain that put the Cowboys in field goal range to win the game. Zeke was just an absolute beast on Sunday, putting this team on his back and carrying them to victory.
2. Career high for Tank
DeMarcus Lawrence first pro sack came in the 2014 Wild Card game against the Lions. It was a big play that saved the game and helped the Cowboys advance to the Divisional round. That was the last time Lawrence played against the Lions.
Well, he came up big against them again on Sunday. The Cowboys defense sacked Matthew Stafford three times and Lawrence had them all. That ties a career high in sacks for a single game as he also had three during a game in September last year as well. Lawrence would also record eight tackles, including six of them solo.
Lawrence started fast last year and he’s doing the same thing again this season. It’s looking more and more like he’s going to get a big contract next offseason.
3. Little man Tate was great
The Cowboys secondary had all kinds of problems on Sunday, but they really struggled with stopping Golden Tate. The Lions veteran receiver had eight catches for 132 yards on the day, but most of the damage came on two big plays, both for touchdowns. The secondary appeared all out of sorts on each of those plays.
On the first touchdown, Tate would cut outside causing cornerback Jourdan Lewis to slip, allowing Tate to get open and make the catch uncontested. Jeff Heath was there as a safety net, but a slight juke was all it took to send Heath to the carpet, resulting in a 45-yard score.
Golden Tate with the most disrespected TOUCHDOWN of the weekend pic.twitter.com/0bSPqeofLR— FlurrySports (@FlurrySports) September 30, 2018
Then, late in the fourth quarter, Tate would strike again after Anthony Brown didn’t play back far enough, allowing room for Stafford to fit the pass to Tate. Chidobe Awuzie was too far inside to help out, resulting in a 38-yard touchdown.
The Cowboys secondary is all of a sudden having problems with their coverage. Seattle burned them a couple times last week and they were burned again on Sunday. This is a little alarming.
4. Dak taking deep shots
It was extremely exciting that Dak Prescott’s first two passes were both 30+ yards completions. Even though the drive stalled out with just a field goal, it was a good sign that Dak was going to make a concerted effort to throw the ball down the field. The coverage was actually pretty good on the 37-yard play to Michael Gallup, but Dak put the ball in the perfect spot and the rookie went up and made the play.
Prescott was 17 of 27 passing for 255 yards for an average of 9.4 yards per attempt. It was his eighth highest Y/A game of his career. The Cowboys continue to emerge victorious when Prescott eclipses the 7.0 Y/A. Entering the game, Dallas is a perfect 18-0 when Dak averages over seven yards per attempt. Make that 19-0 now.
The Cowboys had just three pass plays of 20 yards or more in the first three games. They had four against the Lions.
5. I’m starting to like this Swaim fella
Last week, it was nauseating to see Geoff Swaim as the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 47 yards. He had more targets than any of the Cowboys wide receivers. Clearly, that is not the Cowboys formula for winning.
Swaim would drop his production a bit on Sunday, but boy were they good use of his targets. He would catch a 31-yard pass for the offense’s initial first-down of the game. Then, Prescott would hit him for a one-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Swaim isn’t this great athletic receiving tight end, but he has come along well as a reliable target for Prescott. Against the Lions, he had his longest reception of his career and his first ever NFL touchdown, and they were both on different plays. The Cowboys might have something with this guy.
6. Heads up play by Prescott
It’s easy to feel good about the Cowboys final drive that set up the game winning field goal, but it shouldn’t get lost in how close they were to catastrophe. The Cowboys were facing a 2nd-and-3 when the Lions were able to knock the ball out of Prescott’s hands. Dak immediately located the ball and picked it up, allowing him to scramble to the right and just throw it away. Dallas was able to convert on third down and the drive stayed alive.
If the Lions recover the ball, the game is likely over. If Dak just falls on it, the Cowboys would’ve faced a third-and-long and the outcome might have been different. Prescott made a great play.
That play actually made me think about the Tony Romo fumble in the end zone against the Lions that kept a fourth quarter drive alive in 2006. Romo scooped up his own fumble and was able to find Terrell Owens for the completion for a first down. Dallas would go on to score and win that game.
7. Kerryon not utilized
Last week against the New England Patriots, the Lions broke an incredible streak of 70-straight games without a 100-yard rusher thanks to the strong performance by rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. All signs pointed to the Cowboys defense facing the daunting task of keeping him in check this week. But for some reason, the Lions didn’t use him very much.
Johnson averaged 6.1 yards per carry which is the exact same average Zeke had in this game, but Johnson only had nine carries. Johnson scampered off for 32 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage and had a punishing eight-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but there wasn’t a whole lot in between. Lions fans should be wanting some answers as they underutilized one of their better offensive weapons.
8. Great play from the offensive line
Ezekiel Elliott will get all the glory, but it cannot be stated enough in how well this offensive line played for Dallas. The Cowboys did a good job of pulling lineman and getting blockers out in space. Everyone was doing it. On the designed screen play to Zeke that resulted in a big touchdown, he had a convoy of blockers leading the way.
Yes, that’s “Jumbo” Joe Looney running 40 yards down the field to block for Zeke. With wheels like that, that was easily his best Zeke impression to date.
Not only was the blocking outstanding, but the offensive line showed a lot more discipline against the Lions. They didn’t commit a single penalty. No holding calls, no false starts, nada. The Cowboys did get called for an illegal block in the back, but that was on Elliott when he was blocking for Tavon Austin.
All in all, the Cowboys only had two penalties for 20 yards, which was outstanding. Detroit, however, couldn’t get out of their own way.
You, yes you right there looking at the ball— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) September 30, 2018
YOU'RE OFFSIDE YOU MORON pic.twitter.com/Nwip4Tz27X
9. The lonesome kicker
When you take the beloved Dan Bailey’s job away from him, that’s not a quick way to make friends among Cowboys Nation. When you miss your first ever NFL kick, people are pretty much not going to like you. But since that first miss, new Cowboys kicker Brett Maher (pronounced Maw-her) has made eight straight kicks. Against the Lions, he would knock down four field goals, including the game-winner as time expired.
Maher’s 38-yard game winner was huge and that’s a kick Bailey has made countless times. Speaking of Bailey, the former Cowboys kicker would attempt his first kick with his new team on Thursday night as he knocked down a 37-yarder. However, if it would have been 38 yards, it might have been wide right. Man, that would have given me a heart attack if Maher did that on Sunday.
The bank is open for Dan Bailey pic.twitter.com/5GEJ7ehOq9— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 28, 2018
The Cowboys front office might have known what they were doing by going with Maher.
10. Earl Thomas trade talks are officially over
After tormenting the Cowboys last week with two interceptions, Earl Thomas’ season likely came to an end on Sunday after suffering a leg injury. Thomas has been scrutinized for wanting out of Seattle after not being offered an extension. He tried to play it safe, avoiding as much live action football he could during preseason, but alas - the grim reaper came calling on Sunday.
While some fans were hoping the Cowboys would finagle some type of trade to bolster their safety position, that idea can officially be squashed. Thomas may still be a part of the Cowboys future, but he won’t be playing for them in 2018.
And Earl Thomas is down and getting carted off with a cast. Exactly why he wanted to get paid. And why no one — NO ONE — should criticize a player wanting to get his when he can.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) September 30, 2018