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Black cat inspired Cowboys stifle Giants 37-18

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A little feline assistance saves the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Things looked ugly for the Cowboys for 29 minutes and eight seconds Monday with Dallas again stumbling their way in New York to a 12-3 deficit. Then Blake Jarwin did what he does to the Giants (score touchdowns) and Xavier Woods grabbed an interception and the Cowboys outscored New York 34-6 the rest of the way and there was much rejoicing.

All of that happened after this:

So, whether you’re superstitious or not, there’s no disputing the black cat reversed the Cowboys fortunes. Regardless, the team did what it had to do on a night when the offense generated 429 yards and 30 points but was out-shined by a terrific defensive effort. Let’s go to the grades.

Overall: B-

This game wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter and frankly that’s ridiculous. But just like we saw in New Orleans and previously in New York, the Cowboys repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. Turnovers, dropped passes and penalties enabled a feeble Giants team to stay in the game for 45 minutes.

Why this keeps happening on the road is a mystery and until Jason Garrett and the rest of the team figure it out it’s hard to feel confident about this team.

And yet, they made play after play after play on both sides of the ball throughout the game. On offense:

  • 30 points scored
  • 429 yards
  • 6.6 yards per play
  • 172 rushing yards

On defense:

  • 271 yards allowed
  • <4 yards per play
  • 3 turnovers
  • 5 sacks
  • 1 defensive score

This is the fifth time this season the Cowboys have scored 30 points, generated 400+ yards of offense and won by double digits. That’s the mark of a dominant team.

But...we also had:

  • Two turnovers
  • Ten penalties for over 100 yards
  • Two long kick-off returns
  • Four dropped passes

There’s so much to like about the 2019 Dallas Cowboys but until they eliminate the mistakes they won’t live up to their capabilities.

Coaching: B-

Dallas came out and again struggled in the first half. Other times this has happened:

  • Week 1: NY Giants
  • Week 2: @ Washington
  • Week 3: Miami
  • Week 4: @ New Orleans
  • Week 5: Green Bay
  • Week 6: @ NY Jets
  • Week 9: @ NY Giants

Some of you might notice a pattern emerging. There are those who will say that it’s simply players not executing and when you see Dak Prescott dropping a simple shotgun snap it’s hard to argue. But when it happens week after week across every unit on the team you have to wonder what the coaching staff is doing to prepare the players.

On the other hand... boy was this offense dynamic when not committing turnovers or penalties. Dallas started with five consecutive pass plays despite Prescott throwing an ugly interception on the first play of the game.

This aggressive approach contrasted sharply with the uber-conservative road game-plan we saw against New Orleans and the Jets. Defensively we saw Sean Lee turning the clock back, Michael Bennett showing why so many were excited about his acquisition and Xavier Woods looking like the ball-hawking play-maker he was in college.

Quarterback: B+

Prescott had one very bad play:

Seemed like Prescott decided where he was going with the ball before the snap and didn’t let the fact a defender was right in the path of the intended target dissuade his decision.

Beyond that he was very good and - again - was frequently undone by his receivers dropping balls. Dak ended up with a ho-hum three touchdown, 257 yard night. The three touchdowns were each big-strike plays, coming from 42, 15 and 45 yards. He took no sacks and basically took what was available most of the night.

Running backs: A-

If we’re just looking at Ezekiel Elliot this is an A+. Simply put, Zeke was dominant from opening whistle to final gun. He would average six yards per carry on the way to 139 yards. He had a terrific catch and run negated by penalty and showed off his blocking skills on a Tony Pollard end-around play. He was absolutely phenomenal in every phase of the game.

Tony Pollard, on the other hand, had a terrible start to the game. Many have (rightly) been calling for more involvement from the rookie. But within the first ten minutes of the game Pollard had:

  • Mishandled a Giants kick-off to put the Cowboys in poor starting position.
  • Lost a pass in the lights that had touchdown potential.
  • Flat out dropped a simple screen pass where he had multiple blockers and no one in sight on what could have been a touchdown on a third-and-fifteen play.

Pollard would make some plays later to redeem himself but his mistakes dearly cost the Cowboys early.

Wide receivers: B+

It was a tough night early for the receiving crew. First Michael Gallup dropped yet another ball; by my count that’s his fifth drop his last three games. Then Randall Cobb would do this:

That would lead to a Giants field goal and a nine-point Cowboys deficit.

After that, however, Gallup and Amari Cooper would make highlight reel plays. With the Cowboys clinging to a one-point, fourth-quarter lead, Gallup would catch, run and leap to a gymnastics-worthy touchdown:

Later, with the game still in doubt with eight minutes remaining, Prescott would team with Amari Cooper for a decisive 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown:

It was classic Cooper as he was wide open and then outraced the defenders for the score. Cobb is a bit of mystery. He seems to have two results:

  • A big play touchdown negated by penalty (he had another Monday, his second such play of the year)
  • A miscue resulting in a turnover (he’s had two passes bounce of his hands for interceptions and fumbled Monday)

The trio would end up combining for 12 catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns on 21 targets.

Tight ends: A

I don’t want to claim I can see the future, but I can see the future:

Last year in New York, Blake Jarwin exploded for the biggest game by a tight end in Cowboys’ history. Look for Witten, Jarwin and (dare I say it) Dalton Schultz to make some big plays and combine for 100+ yards and a couple touchdowns.

Okay, so they only had one touchdown but Jason Witten repeatedly moved the chains and Blake Jarwin had the single biggest play of the game:

Prior to Jarwin’s touchdown, the Cowboys had sputtered and stumbled to only three points in the game’s first 29 minutes. In fact, the Cowboys scored more points (10) in the final 52 seconds of the first half of Monday’s game than they scored in the previous 89 minutes of first half play on the road (9). The two would combine for nine catches, 100 yards and the touchdown on ten targets.

If Witten can continue to be an effective safety valve and Jarwin can kick in an occasional impact play the tight end group is doing the best we can hope for.

Offensive line: A

Some simple numbers;

  • 0 sacks allowed
  • 172 rushing yards
  • 5.7 rushing yards per attempt

Those are the numbers of a dominant offensive line performance. Things were marred a bit by two holding calls on Tyron Smith, but honestly, both of them were iffy. Going back to last season it sure seems like NFL officials are targeting Smith as (seemingly) the vast majority of the penalties called against him seem suspect.

Defensive line: A

Again, some simple numbers:

  • 5 sacks recorded
  • 28 rushing yards by Saquon Barkley
  • 2 yards per attempt by Saquon Barkley

Yeah, the Giants recorded 100 yards rushing but that’s because Daniel Jones led the team with 58 yards rushing. When you can get after the quarterback and hold Barkley in check, you’ve done your job.

DeMarcus Lawrence was a beast all night long. He repeatedly got after Jones, and would finish with four tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and one sack:

Michael Bennett made his own impact, recording three tackles, two tackles for loss, four hurries and a sack of his own. Only real surprise was the relatively quiet night from Robert Quinn; he did record a half sack but his name was not called much.

Linebackers: A

In many ways this was a throw-back night as Sean Lee reminded everyone throughout the night why he was once an All-Pro caliber player. He would lead the team with 12 tackles, a pass defensed and a classic Sean Lee tackle for loss:

Sean Lee as a backup filling in for an injured Leighton Vander Esch is a luxury few teams can afford. Jaylon Smith, meanwhile, added 12 tackles of his own and also recorded a half sack on this play:

Joe Thomas also flashed, adding three tackles and looking solid in pass coverage. This was arguably the best game the linebacker unit has had this season.

Secondary: A-

It’s been frustrating watching the Cowboys secondary be on the wrong end of plays the last several years. They never seem to make a play. That changed Monday. First we had Xavier Woods flashing the free safety ball-hawking skills that have been sorely lacking from this team:

Woods would follow that up with a crushing hit that resulted in a key fumble recovered by Dallas. Finally, Jourdan Lewis, who only makes plays, would score the team’s first defensive touchdown of the season off a Dorance Armstrong play:

The only real negative was the continued struggles of Chidobie Awuzie. He was beaten cleanly on the Giants lone touchdown:

We also saw Darian Thompson get significant playing time in place of an injured Jeff Heath. Frankly, Thompson has shined in limited opportunities this season and it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’s earned more playing time.

Special teams: C-

Brett Maher had a very Brett Maher game. He converted three of four kicks, missing from 54 yards; hard to hold that against him. But the kick-off coverage was atrocious, twice allowing the Giants to return the ball to midfield.

Since Kevin O’Quinn has taken over as special teams coach the coverage units have been extremely vulnerable while the Cowboys own return units never generate anything. Makes you wonder.

Summary:

The continued opening struggles is a real concern. The Cowboys played really, really well for most of the game Monday and should have been comfortably in control by midway through the second quarter.

But turnovers, dropped passes and penalties have been a constant problem for this team, especially on the road. The Cowboys have the talent to beat any team in the league and be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But if they can’t eliminate the slow starts and the self-inflicted wounds they’re not a contender for anything other than a disappointing season.

You can beat a team like the Giants while making a good dozen dumb mistakes. That won’t fly against the teams like New Orleans and Green Bay, as we’ve already seen this season.