There will be no victory polo Monday today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel good about what the Dallas Cowboys did yesterday. With so much to overcome, the Cowboys took the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers down to the final play of the game before coming up short 24-19. The Cowboys had 364 yards of offense, which is their highest output for a non-Dak Prescott led team this season.
The defense showed up as well as they kept the Steelers scoreless for most of the first half. There were definitely things to feel good about in this one. Here are ten thoughts on this admirable performance by the ‘Boys.
1. Decent debut for Gilbert
We didn’t know until Saturday who the Cowboys were going to start at quarterback when they finally announced they would call upon 28-year-old Garrett Gilbert. In his first career start, Gilbert actually did pretty well. He finished 21/38 for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It wasn’t a stellar performance by any means, but he made several good plays in the game. He looked comfortable in the pocket, and slid over just enough to create throwing lanes. Gilbert also showed off some elusiveness with a couple nice scrambles. For a guy who only had six career pass attempts entering this game, he did a lot better than expected, and he at least gave fans some glimmer of hope.
2. Can’t say enough about this offensive line
It wouldn’t be a Cowboys game if there wasn’t an injury to their offensive line. On Sunday, the injury bug kicked in before the game even started as rookie center Tyler Biadasz hurt his hamstring in pregame warmups. Fortunately, they had Joe Looney to fall back on. And then later, Cameron Erving had to exit the game for a play, forcing Zack Martin to fill in at tackle.
Despite all the shuffling around, this unit held up extremely well against one of the best pass rushing groups in the league. Even Terrence Steele did a fantastic job against T.J. Watt. The line only allowed two sacks to Gilbert and gave him plenty of time to operate.
3. Pollard shows burst
We were expecting to see a heavy does of Tony Pollard on Sunday when news surfaced that Ezekiel Elliott was not expected to play in this game. But apparently, missing his first ever NFL game due to injury was not in the cards for Zeke as he was out there running hard.
While Elliott got the bulk of the work, it was Pollard who was the more effective rusher. He only had half the amount of carries as Zeke, but still managed to out rush him. Pollard hit the holes fast and turned out a few nice runs to help move deeper into Steelers territory. His effectiveness leaves fans wondering what things would’ve looked like if he would’ve received a larger share of the touches.
4. Run defense showed up
The Cowboys run defense has been a big problem this season as they have been heinous as of late. They gave up rushing totals of 307, 261, and 208 yards in games during the month of October, so there’s good reason to be alarmed.
But on Sunday, it was a different story. The Steelers finished with just 46 rushing yards, only gaining 2.6 yards per attempt. Part of the low rushing total was attributed to volume as Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 42 times, but when they did run it, the Cowboys were all over it. They tackled well, and they got great push back from their defensive line, which brings us to...
5. Very nice showing for Gallimore
The Cowboys 2020 rookie class has already paid dividends as the play of CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, and Tyler Biadasz have had several nice games this season. All three are showing themselves to be quality starters in this league. Well, if Sunday was any indication, we might be able to add a fourth player on that list because third-round pick Neville Gallimore was outstanding.
The rookie was shoving blockers around, throwing ball carriers downs, and penetrating the holes just enough to get those powerful mitts on the runner. It was one of the more impressive games the team has had from the defensive tackle position this season, and this is a very positive sign going forward.
6. Punt return trick play
What a well executed play by the special teams on the punt return backward pass. Starting with a fantastic sell job by C.J. Goodwin, who should win an academy award for portraying a player who pulls up with lame hammy, to the nice blockade of blockers allowing Goodwin to run for miles before anyone was near him. It was a fantastic play design, taking full advantage of the throwing ability of Cedrick Wilson.
It’s a shame it didn’t go to the house, and that block in the back penalty on Darian Thompson was weak sauce. Regardless, it was a nice play by the special teams.
7. More goodness by the special teams
The big return wasn’t the only good play by this unit. After a personal foul penalty (supposedly Randy Gregory was fighting someone?) allowed the Steelers to kick off from midfield, Pittsburgh pooched a perfectly placed kick at the one-yard line, hoping to pin the Cowboys back near their own goal line. But returner Rico Dowdle would have none of that as he made a couple nice cuts, tippy-toed down the sideline, and then 64 yards later, the Cowboys offense was set up in great shape.
Not only were they sharp in the return game, but they blocked an extra point as well. Tyrone Crawford kept getting free paths to the kicker, and one time he was able to get his hands on the ball. The special teams unit has been struggling this season, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Credit John Fassel and his unit for getting some things figured out.
8. The unexpected run
Everyone hates it when it doesn’t work, but running the ball on third and long can sometimes be very fortuitous. The Cowboys offense almost had one of those moments as they came up just a smidgen short on a 3rd-and-9 play in the third quarter. The Steelers defense was not expecting a run and were fully committed to going after Gilbert, and this allowed Elliott to find a running lane.
In the end, it didn’t work despite what it looked like in real time. The Cowboys had the right idea there as they got the alignment that favored a running play. Unfortunately, they had to once again settle for a Greg Zuerlein field goal.
9. Bad finish to the half
The Cowboys had a 13-0 lead late in the second quarter, but allowed the Steelers to score nine points in the final 70 seconds of the half. The bad thing about that was that there were a myriad of mistakes that contributed. An illegal formation negated a nice 20-yard pick up to Dalton Schultz that would’ve put the Cowboys offense near midfield. Then, on the very next play, CeeDee Lamb had the ball stripped, popping right into the arms of Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Even the Steelers field goal that was missed at the end of the first half didn’t count because one of their linemen got called for a false start after the Cowboys defensive line did a quick move inside to position themselves for the block. It moved the Steelers back five yards, but it gave them an other shot, and sure enough, they knocked down the 59-yarder as time expired in the half.
10. More Jaylon miscues
It almost feels bad to highlight Jaylon Smith’s mistakes on a regular basis, but man that guy just finds himself on the wrong end of too many bad plays. On Sunday, he was called for two penalties, both of which were costly. First, he was called for illegal contact which nullified a sack/fumble midway through the fourth quarter that would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Steelers 21-yard line. Instead, Pittsburgh was given a new set off downs, and drove the ball down the field before kicking a field goal to cut it to a one point lead.
Then, on the next Steelers drive, the Cowboys defense had a chance to get off the field after Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-10 with four minutes left in the game. Smith was called for roughing the passer when his hand hit the Steelers quarterback in the facemask, giving Pittsburgh a new set of downs. Pittsburgh scored the go ahead touchdown four plays later.