The Dallas Cowboys won their fourth game of the season on Sunday with a convincing 30-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s always good to see the team put points on the board as six of their previous seven games they’ve played without Dak Prescott, the Cowboys failed to reach 20 points. Speaking of 20 points, this game marked the first time all season that the Cowboys defense allowed fewer than 20 points in a game. Yes, it was against a struggling Bengals offense, but it’s still good to see the defense do what they’re supposed to do.
But just how well did this Cowboys team play on Sunday? As new things reveal themselves the second time around, let’s take a look at what we can learn after further review.
On the surface, it felt like the Cowboys offense was pretty solid. Any time you get 30 points, that’s a good showing, right? Of course, we know that seven of those points came courtesy of the defense on Aldon Smith’s 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Another seven points came late in the fourth quarter after the Bengals offense turned the ball over on downs at their own 16-yard line. After Cincinnati gave the ball up on the second play of the game, the Cowboys offense was set up nicely at the Bengals’ 32-yard line, but unfortunately was only able to go 16 yards before settling for a field goal. That means 17 of their total 30 points should be attributed to the defense.
The offense really wasn’t all that great. Even when they were set up nicely by the second-half kickoff return by Tony Pollard, their drive stalled out at the two-yard line and they had to settle for a field goal. In all, five of the Cowboys eight drives never eclipsed 21 yards. If we’re being honest, the offense only put together one really good touchdown drive the entire game.
Dalton was perfect on third down in the first half
Statistically, it was a very underwhelming game for the Cowboys backup quarterback as he only completed 16 passes for just 185 yards. And while he only completed one pass for over 20 yards, Dalton was pretty sharp in the first half. The Cowboys only had two possessions in the first half (technically, they had three, but on the third one they just took a knee at the end of the first half) due to the Bengals continuously driving and fumbling. But on those two drives, Dalton completed all four of his passes on third down. He was decisive, and put the ball right in the perfect spot for his receivers.
A solid showing for a backup corner
Former LSU corner Rashard Robinson was selected two spots ahead of Dak Prescott in the 2016 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He made 13 starts at corner before being traded to the New York Jets midway through his second season. The Jets needed cornerback depth after then starter Morris Claiborne suffered a foot injury. During the latter part of his rookie deal, Robinson was suspended as twice he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. In September of this year, the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad and then eventually promoted him to where he has now made three starts at corner.
Normally, Robinson has served as one of the secondary’s biggest fall guys when something goes wrong. And to be fair, he’s been right in the middle of some negative plays, but on Sunday, he had his best game of the season. He filled up the stat sheet with nine total tackles, trailing only Jaylon Smith for the team lead. Looking through the plays, sometimes those tackles were attributed to constantly being targeted as he allowed too much separation and he didn’t finish with a single pass break up.
To his credit, he did a good job wrapping up as there were no big run-after-the-catch moments. What was even more impressive to see was how he well he reacted in abandoning his man and fighting off blocks to make tackles.
Tyrone Crawford had a good game
The veteran defensive lineman has had a quiet season. For starters, he’s seen a 33% drop in playing time as his defensive snap count has gone from his typical 60% to 41% this season. Part of this is that he’s not getting much edge action as players like Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory are seeing the great majority of the defensive end reps opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. Despite the team’s injuries at defensive tackle, the coaching staff likes to go a little bigger as Neville Gallimore has received more playing time than Crawford since Week 9 against the Steelers.
Crawford is usually good for about five sacks a year, but entering this game he had yet to record a sack this season. On Sunday, he got two sacks in a span of three plays. He showed nice hand work to slip through on his first sack, and then never gave up on the play to come up with sack number two.
If you look closely at Darian Thompson’s forced fumble where he got a nice running start to pop Bengals receiver Alex Erickson, take a look at Crawford’s impact on this play. He’s able to get enough push to obstruct Erickson’s path on the jet sweep, forcing him to swing out a little bit. Just that extra bit of a detour was enough to allow Thompson to beat the receiver to the spot.
Even on the DeMarcus Lawrence strip, it was made possible by the interior defensive line closing up the gap. This caused Giovani Bernard to stop in his tracks and step backwards, allowing Tank a clean shot on him.
One juke makes all the difference
It seems like the only difference between the Cowboys starting their possession on their own 12-yard line or Tony Pollard running it out for 60 yards is whether or not he can elude that first defender who always seems to have a clear shot at him. Too many times this year, Pollard has been taken down by this defender, but on Sunday he was able to make him miss. Pollard ran straight up the middle, but then made a slight shift to his left, only to cut quickly to his right. This tripped up the defender just enough to take him out of the play. Once Pollard got passed him, the Cowboys returner had plenty of open space to run.