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Grading the Cowboys 31-21 triumph at Washington

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It’s time for the report card from the Dallas at Washington game.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys traveled to our nation’s capitol Sunday and methodically dismantled an over-matched, injury-riddled Redskins squad. Dak Prescott shined, Ezekiel Elliot had some nice runs and the offense again looked like a juggernaut on the way to 448 yards and 31 points. The defense gave up a few drives and didn’t generate any big plays, but also held the Redskins to 255 total yards. While there’s some room for improvement, this was exactly what Cowboys fans wanted to see against a division opponent on the road. Let’s go to the grades.

Overall: B

There was a lot to like offensively. Kellen Moore’s unit has averaged 33 points and 473 yards per game. After Dak threw his first career interception against Washington on the team’s second drive (a ball that bounced off Randall Cobb’s hands) he was basically perfect. The offense strung together five consecutive scoring drives, including four touchdown drives:

Remember, this comes after the team scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives last week:

Honestly, you can’t do much better than that. Yes, it’d be nice if the team wouldn’t take the first couple drives to get started but once they’re up and running watch out.

The defense was better this week; after surrendering 470 yards against the Giants last week Dallas allowed a much better 255 total yards. However, there was a lack of plays from this unit. They notched only a single sack and zero turnovers. Also, after Jason Garrett chided the unit for allowing an easy, late score to the Giants, the defense again allowed an easy, late score to make the game semi-interesting late.

The 2018 Dallas Cowboys managed ten wins despite enjoying only one two-score victory; many said that was unsustainable. One way to overcome that is to win by double digits. Mission accomplished.

Coaching: B

The team didn’t look particularly ready to play. Maybe that’s expected playing an early game on the East coast but we saw penalties, dropped passes and the Redskins taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Otherwise, things went as planned.

Quarterback: A+

I felt a sense of dread when, right before kick-off, a graphic came on screen showing Dak Prescott hadn’t thrown an interception in his career against Washington. Naturally, Dak’s fifth pass of the day ricocheted off Randall Cobb’s hands into the arms of Montae Nicholson. At that point, Dak was 4-for-6 for 19 yards and an interception. The rest of the game he would go an almost perfect 22-of-24 with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Dak’s final numbers (26-of-30, 269 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT) add up to a passer rating of 123.5. He was consistently putting balls right on the money. Like his first touchdown pass to Devin Smith:

Same thing on Presscott’s touchdown pass to Jason Witten; this is a sneakily difficult throw:

Dak also had a few throws where he hit the receiver in stride allowing him to run after the catch. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you,Dak also did this:

That’s the longest run of Prescott’s career, he totaled 69 yards on the ground to account for 338 total yards. Yeah, the Redskins and Giants aren’t the best measuring sticks in the NFL, but through two weeks Dak Prescott is pace for 5,400 passing yards to go with 56 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He’s playing like an All-Pro quarterback.

Running backs: B

Dallas ended up with 213 total yards rushing, but the wealth was spread around:

Elliott had a typically Elliot-like game: no real flashy plays, but lots of strong running. He kept churning and churning and finished with 111 yards. He would also find the end zone for the second consecutive week, effectively ending the game:

Tony Pollard and Randall Cobb combined for an effective 33 yards on six carries. Pollard also found the end zone but the play was negated by an Amari Cooper holding penalty.

Wide receivers: A-

Last week it was the three amigos (Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb), Sunday afternoon it was the four friends as Devin Smith joined the trio in making big plays. Smith took full advantage in his first real action as a Cowboys receiver, leading all pass receivers with 74 yards (on three catches) and a touchdown.

Cooper and Gallup made plays throughout the game, finishing with 10 catches on thirteen targets for 112 yards and this touchdown to Cooper:

(Note: Michael Gallup has a knee contusion, no word on how serious it is)

Tight ends: B

We’re starting to see a bit of a trend at the tight end position. Jason Witten gets the majority of the targets but most are of the short-yardage variety. Blake Jarwin will contribute a big play or two. And Witten has found the end zone twice so far this year, both on very short plays.

Add it up and the two combined for 47 yards and a touchdown on only five targets. With all the weapons at running back and wide receiver, this group’s ability to chip in here and there can immensely help the offense.

Offensive line: B+

The Cowboys were able to run the ball effectively throughout most of the day as the offensive line was able to provide some running lanes. More importantly, Prescott was sacked only once and, like last Sunday, generally had time to throw the ball. La’el Collins has historically struggled against Ryan Kerrigan, and did get beat once on the the Redskins’ only sack on the day. Otherwise, however, he was solid. After being sacked 56 times in 2018 Prescott is on pace to be sacked eight times in 2019.

Connor Williams had a holding call and struggled at points. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick had clean days and look like the All-Pro trio of offensive lineman we hope to see. Tyron Smith, in particular, has had a strong start to the season after struggling early in 2018. These three looking like their former selves is a good sign for the Cowboys’ offense.

Defensive line: C+

Two weeks into the season the Dallas Cowboys are on pace for (checks notes)...sixteen sacks. Tyrone Crawford made perhaps the play of the game, sacking Case Keenum for a 14-yard loss near midfield when Dallas trailed 7-0.

(Note: Tyrone Crawford left with a hip strain, not word on how serious it is)

Maliek Collins added a nice tackle for loss early in the game when his quick penetration disrupted a running attempt.

Otherwise, this group was very, very quiet. Demarcus Lawrence made some noise on a few pass rushes but wasn’t able to get home and didn’t have much of an impact on the game. Kerry Hyder, who received a ton of accolades in pre-season, hasn’t done much in the regular season games. If there’s any concern for this team, it’s the lackluster play from this group through two weeks. Robert Quinn returns next week and hopefully he’ll ignite a unit that needs to improve.

Linebackers: B-

The final stats show Jaylon Smith (11) and Leighton vander Esch (5) with a combined 16 tackles. I honestly can’t recall a single one of them. Neither player has been a weakness thus far this season but there’s been a notable absence of big plays from either player. It’s pretty rare for the two to combine for zero tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered, interceptions or passes defensed. But Sunday they recorded zeroes in every one of those categories.

Secondary: B

Not real sure how to judge this group. On the one hand, we saw some sticky coverage from Byron Jones and Jourdan Lewis with a fantastic tackle to thwart a Redskins’ third down attempt. We also saw Jones get beat several times, including for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Jones also dropped a potential interception on a play where he had blanket coverage.

Xavier Woods, a player many predicted would emerge as a playmaker, instead dropped what should have been an easy interception. The ball hit him right in the hands and he likely would have returned it for a touchdown.

Dallas has recorded only two turnovers through two weeks, an issue that has plagued the team seemingly this entire decade. When you drop two potential interceptions you can’t expect to get a lot of turnovers.

Special teams: B

Another ho-hum day for this unit. The team converted every kick, though four were extra points and the lone field goal try was from only 25 yards, including one scary extra point that doinked off an upright and through. Most kickoffs went out of the end zone; most punts were fair caught. Not a lot of opportunities for this group.

Summary:

The Cowboys face a soft early schedule and would have to win those games to give them some breathing room later in the season. Well, mission accomplished. Two games, two wins over division foes by double-digits. That’s what good teams are supposed to do; win these games without any drama.

The offense looks like a potentially lethal unit and the defense, while not stellar, has been good enough. Harder roads await, no doubt. But for the second week in a row, Cowboys fans should be satisfied with where the team stands.

Year-to-date grades by game: