Don’t look now, but the Dallas Cowboys have themselves a win streak. Granted it’s come at the hands of a couple teams with losing records, but at least the Cowboys are stringing together some good football. With a 41-33 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Dallas now has five wins on the year. The 49ers are having their own problems as both these squads have been decimated with injuries, but it always feels good to beat a historical rival.
Here are ten thoughts on the Cowboys win over the 49ers.
1. Saved by the turnovers
Last week against the Bengals, the Cowboys offense got a lot of help from their defense as all but three of their 30 points came off of turnovers or a turnover on downs. The Cowboys were able to coast to a 23-point win despite the offense only churning out 272 total yards, their third-lowest output of the season.
It was a similar story on Sunday against the 49ers. Dallas only had 292 yards of offense in this game, but had their highest point total of the season. A big part of that was attributed to three turnovers by the 49ers offense and one by the 49ers special teams, that led to 24 points for the Cowboys. It’s so great that this Cowboys team is finally benefiting from winning the turnover battle (+7 over the last two games), but at the same time, this offense is still exhibiting issues moving the ball.
2. The Cowboys may have their punter for the future
For the second week in a row, the Cowboys have had a punt downed inside their opponents five-yard line nullified by a penalty. Last week, backup punter Hunter Niswander nailed one inside the five against the Bengals, and on Sunday he did it again as he hit a 59-yard punt that was downed at the 49ers one-yard line. Unfortunately, Sewo Olonilua was called for an illegal formation penalty that negated the punt.
But Niswander got a chance to do it again early in the fourth quarter when he hit a 52-yarder that C.J. Goodwin was able to keep out of the end zone as he batted it back to Cedrick Wilson, downing the ball at the two-yard line.
The undrafted rookie punter has performed well in Chris Jones’ absence, and one has to wonder if he’s done enough to earn the regular gig next season. The veteran Jones has had his struggles in recent seasons, and it’s a nice change to see the Cowboys benefit from pinning their opponents back deep in their own territory.
3. Armstrong’s arms are strong
It was a great play by edge rushers/special teamer Dorance Armstrong to get his hand in to strip the ball away from 49ers kickoff returner Richie James. But it was equally impressive for him to somehow come away with the recovery. As soon as the ball came loose, three 49ers players immediate pounced towards the ball. Luckily for Armstrong, the ball was sitting right next to his body, so all he had to do is just reach down and grab it. However, a 49ers player got there first, and Armstrong must have just out-muscled him in order to come away with the football.
4. Excellent play call on the Gallup touchdown
It wasn’t super busy, but you have to tip your cap to Kellen Moore for such a well-designed play on the Cowboys second touchdown. First, they ran CeeDee Lamb in motion, so the defense had to be mindful of a potential jet sweep. Then, Andy Dalton made a nice fake pitch to Tony Pollard, which froze 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore enough to allow Michael Gallup to sneak right past him for an easy catch in the back of the end zone.
5. Jourdan Lewis shows up
This game marked the first time the Cowboys have had all three of their starting cornerbacks available the same time. Injuries have always stretched this group thin, but Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and rookie Trevon Diggs all played a game together.
This put Jourdan Lewis back as the team’s no. 4 corner, affording him the luxury of moving around a lot. And move around he did as Lewis was all over the place. The veteran defensive back made several nice defensive plays, including a sack, a nice goal line pass break up on 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and sniffing out a quick pass to Brandon Aiyuk that resulted in a three-yard loss.
Lewis did get called for a pass interference penalty in the second half, but overall it was still a very good showing by the Cowboys corner.
6. Secondary in general was making plays
The 49ers offense racked up 458 yards of offense against Dallas. It was only the second time this year that San Francisco has eclipsed 450 yards of offense, with the other time being a 33-6 rout over the New England Patriots in Week 7.
The numbers aren’t comforting, and watching the 49ers continue to finagle 75-yard drives against the defense (this happened four times on Sunday), it became frustrating. But despite some struggles, there were some good plays by this secondary group. We already mentioned that Lewis had a good game, but both Donovan Wilson and Anthony Brown stepped in front of passes for interceptions. Even Chidobe Awuzie made a couple nice pass break ups and was tenacious against the run, recording eight tackles.
This group had their share of struggles, and sometimes the amount of time the defensive line allowed to throw the ball is just too much to ask from anyone, but it was good to see the secondary show up often in this game.
7. It’s getting better
We’ve been real critical of this Cowboys defense, and for good reason. The list of things that have gone wrong are plentiful. From taking a long time in figuring out players aren’t performing (Dontari Poe) to trying to force all these changes in an incredibly challenging season, the defense has been a giant mess. And it doesn’t help that they’ve suffered many injuries along the way.
But we must acknowledge that things are improving. CBS even put up a graphic that highlighted how things have improved.
There are a handful of factors that can be attributed to this change. Health is a part of it, but it could be that players are growing more and more comfortable with the defensive scheme. There’s so much more work that remains, but this is promising.
8. Pollard’s performance
The moment news broke about Ezekiel Elliott missing his first ever game due to injury, eyes widened as the anticipation of a Tony Pollard’s increased workload was finally on the horizon. Some fans have soured on Zeke and have been salivating at the mouth for this moment. Others still appreciate Elliott, but wouldn’t mind seeing what the second-year running back could do in an expanded role. Well, whatever category you fall into, the time was finally here.
Pollard finished the day with a 12 carries for 69 yards, with two touchdowns. He also had six receptions for an additional 63 yards. His biggest moment came by a dagger 40-yard touchdown run that gave the Cowboys a 10-point lead with just over two minutes to play.
The final stats are nice, and that last run was a thing of beauty as Pollards elusiveness and quick acceleration shows what he can bring, but prior to that run, he was held in check in the running game as only averaged 2.6 yards per carry. This would’ve resulted in the second-lowest yards/attempt game of the year for Cowboys running backs. That speaks to the difficulties this team has had running the ball this season due to losing key offensive players, and that rings true regardless of whether Zeke or Pollard is the team’s lead ball carrier.
9. Team 40 Burger!
We’d like to offer our sincere apologies if you’re sick of the whole “40 Burger” slogan. It was a slogan filled with optimism at the time as nobody expected the team to lose their star quarterback and four of their starting offensive linemen. Entering Sunday’s game, the only 40-point game this Cowboys team has put up was assisted with the good fortune of a watermelon onside kick recovery.
But that is no longer the case as the Cowboys put up 41 points on the 49ers, and it’s only fitting that the icing on the cake came from CeeDee Lamb, whose draft selection in the first round was the inspiration behind the 40 burger enthusiasm. So, at least for another day, it lives!
10. The division is still up for grabs
If you survived thought no. 9, then we’re really going to challenge your composure by bringing up that majestic NFC East race once again. We know it’s a long shot, and we also know that the idea of a playoff appearance has lost it’s luster with this current group, but hey - it’s still something to play for and right now, the Cowboys have a shot.
Of course, for that to happen, Dallas still needs a lot to go their way, but one of those things happened on Sunday as Washington lost, ending their four-game winning streak. The Cowboys can still conceivably jump Washington for the lead. And although Washington holds the tie-breaker by virtue of a the series sweep, remember that the New York Giants swept them. And Dallas still has a chance to sweep the Giants with a win in the final week.