Cowboys surge in Andy Dalton’s return, reviving playoff hopes: Morning After - Bob Sturm, The Athletic
Andy Dalton had a rough go of things in his first two starts for the Cowboys. Then he got a nasty concussion, and then he contracted COVID-19. None of that stopped Dalton from guiding the Cowboys offense to a successful performance against the Vikings.
What the Cowboys did offensively yesterday was exactly what we anticipated would be possible in the event Prescott was ever forced to miss time. They would still have extremely talented skill players at every spot. They would still have talent up front on the offensive line. It would not be ideal or the preferred starting-11 in their perfect spots, but it should be competitive enough to figure out a way to 20 points. Instead, the team combined for 41 points total over the four weeks we’d seen without Prescott. An average of 10.3 points per game has put enormous pressure on everything else, including a defense that is a few pieces short of a full unit themselves. They had no chance to win a game, so they certainly did not.
With that in mind, forgive everyone who did not anticipate an enjoyable afternoon of football in Minneapolis yesterday against another team suffering big absences to their always-tough defense this year. The Vikings have seen the ends of Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr’s seasons. Without those two and all of the pieces we are familiar with on that Vikings defense who left last spring — two of their top men up front (Everson Griffen and Lival Joseph) and two veteran corners leaving for elsewhere with the team’s consent in free agency (Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes) — the offense would have to do as much or more than the defense for the first time in the Mike Zimmer era.
That part was convincing enough, but once Dallas started showing some offensive flair of their own — first seen with a bullet from Andy Dalton to CeeDee Lamb on a deep out from the slot for his opening completion of the afternoon, using a route combination they would lean on all day long — we could quickly see that this was a game when both teams would flirt with 30 points.
Any time you lose your franchise quarterback for the year, your offense is going to suffer. But after an encouraging outing under Garrett Gilbert, and now this most recent performance with Andy Dalton back under center, are things picking up steam for this Cowboys offense?
Healthy and medically cleared, Dalton returned to practice this week and delivered his most complete performance in three starts this season: 22-of-32 for 203 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 104.0 rating.
“I’m very happy for the offense and Andy, him being away altogether,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. “It was a full week’s work coming into this. I thought he did a heck of a job today. He kept us in clean plays. He really gave us the ability to stay with the run and the pass.
“I thought (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) called an excellent game just creating opportunities continuously for all of our perimeter. That’s they way we want to play. We want to be able to spread the ball around to our five perimeter positions. I thought Kellen and his staff did an excellent job with the adjustments and so forth while going up against a stingy defense in Minnesota.”
Donovan Wilson has suddenly become the talk of the town after his incredible performance against the Vikings. Wilson’s sudden rise to stardom begs the question of why it took this long for fans to see him play.
Rob: My guess would simply be experience. Same reason Joe Looney began the season at center and before Tyler Biadasz took over for a few games. Sometimes coaches lean toward what they’ve seen veteran players do, particularly in a situation like the Cowboys’ this year, trying to install new schemes on the fly. There are still things Wilson can improve in terms of coverage, but his physical play has helped set the tone for the defense. Watching him a bunch at Texas A&M, I can’t say I’m too surprised. He has a way of finding the football.
David: Football coaches love players that they trust. I don’t want to generalize too much, but I think maybe a reason for that is because many coaches were smart but not-as-talented players during their playing careers. Sometimes I think they lean toward trusting players a bit too much. To their credit, I think they started giving Donovan a chance when they realize his upside might be valuable enough to overcome his inexperience.
An injury gives Dallas Cowboys some uncertainty at cornerback, but defense is better - Clarence Hill, The Star Telegram
The Cowboys defense has been getting better each week despite continuing uncertainty in the secondary. While Chidobe Awuzie returned from injury this past week, Anthony Brown got banged up during the win over the Vikings.
It wouldn’t be 2020 if the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have an injury issue clouding a potential game plan in the days before a game. So the uncertainty surrounding cornerback Anthony Brown’s availability for Thursday’s showdown against Washington is par for course. Brown re-aggravated a rib injury in the 31-28 victory against the Minnesota Vikings and his status for Thanksgiving on a short week is unknown.
Rashard Robinson, who was elevated from the practice squad last Saturday, replaced Brown against the Vikings and could get the call against Thursday. Or it could be Saivon Smith. “I know Anthony’s going to give it a shot. That’s the outlook,” Cowboys coach McCarthy said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Brown spent three games on Reserve/Injured with a rib injury earlier this season. The Cowboys got Chido Awuzie back against the Vikings after he had been out since Week 2 with a strained hamstring, and he was replacing Trevon Diggs who is out at least three games with a broken bone in his foot. But don’t let Brown’s situation distract from the continued improvement of the formerly-maligned defensive unit of the Cowboys.
Luke Gifford isn’t exactly the first name that comes to mind when you think of the Cowboys, but the special teamer got his name in the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Tuesday. Gifford was suspended for two games for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The NFL has suspended second-year special teams player Luke Gifford for two games, according to several reports. His suspension is for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
With recent changes to the NFL’s policy in the most recent CBA, it can be concluded that Gifford has been suspended at the banned-stimulant level and that this is his first offense. Stimulants and masking agents get two-game suspensions while first-time suspensions for anabolics was increased to six games for a first offense. A tampered test results in an eight-game ban.
The former Nebraska Cornhusker was an undrafted free agent signing in 2019, but after a preseason injury sidelined him, struggled to find a role with the club outside special teams. His uphill battle became steeper with the new regime as he’s been buried on the depth chart in 2020. Gifford has appeared in just one defensive snap so far this season, along with 119 on special teams.
When people talk about the lack of star power at the safety position in Dallas as of late, two names tend to come up in discussion: Darren Woodson and Roy Williams. On Tuesday, the former was listed as one of 25 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame.
Former Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson is a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall announced its 25 semifinalists in a release on Tuesday, and Woodson is the only Cowboy that spent his entire career in Dallas among the group. Three other former Cowboys — offensive lineman Erik Williams, running back Herschel Walker and defensive lineman La’Roi Glover — did not advance to the semifinalist ballot.
One additional semifinalist did spend one season with the Cowboys — linebacker Zach Thomas, who played for Dallas in 2008. He spent most of his career with the Miami Dolphins.
Woodson spent his entire career with Dallas, amassing 1,320 tackles, 23 interceptions and 11 sacks. Woodson won three Super Bowl rings, went to five Pro Bowls and earned four All-Pro First-Team selections.
The Cowboys have been so bad this year in large part because some of their best players - Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins - are injured. But of the players who are suiting up each Sunday, these five have been exceptionally good.
Honestly, if you thought this list was going to conclude any other way you probably have not been watching the Dallas Cowboys that much in recent years. The four-time All-Pro guard Zack Martin has been the most consistent player on the Cowboys during his career.
Martin has been a premier member of the teams’ offensive line ever since his first season back in 2014. He has made the Pro Bowl every single year and has only missed four games in his career.
The 30-year old guard has been the rock of this organization for six years and has continued his high-level of play this season. However, he arguably expanded his value this year in the teams’ matchup yesterday against the Vikings.
Dallas started Martin at right tackle and not only did the team manage to post its first 30 point game since week five, but running back Ezekiel Elliott also had his first 100-yard rushing game on the year. Zeke was able to reach that milestone for the first time this year in large part due to the stellar play of Martin.
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