The Dallas Cowboys didn’t end on a positive note as they lost their season finale against the New York Giants, 23-19. It almost feels like the Giants ended the Cowboys season twice as Dallas was hit with a huge blow in Week 5 when they lost Dak Prescott for the year. On Sunday, the blow was final as the Cowboys 2020 season came to an end.
It was still a game with excitement as it came down to the wire. Thanks to a sluggish start, the Cowboys had to play catchup the whole time and never held the lead. What happened to cause such a poor offensive showing? Let’s take a look at what we can deduce after further review.
Dalton was wild early
The Cowboys backup quarterback had been playing well in recent weeks, so it was surprising to see Andy Dalton struggle so bad early on in this game. Many times, the ball just got away from him and flew over the head of his intended targets, not giving them any chance to make the play. What was strange was that a lot of these throws weren’t pressure induced, so it’s almost like something got inside his head where he felt rushed. It was as if he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with the ball and his throws took on a path of their own. Whether he was double-pumping or perfectly set in the pocket, the ball just sailed away from him.
Some passes were grossly off target, but a lot more were just slightly off target. It looked as if this was the first game playing with these receivers as they showed no chemistry. It didn’t matter who he was throwing to, often the timing was just way off, and there were multiple instances where the ball went right to the defender. The Cowboys were fortunate to escape without a couple of these getting picked off.
Whether it was balls thrown at the knees or just slightly to the side, Dalton’s inability to convert passes early in the game wasted too many first half possessions. While things eventually got better, this early hole proved costly.
Sacks were drive killers
In real time, it seemed like this makeshift offensive line finally collapsed as the Giants defense regularly got to Dalton. The Cowboys surrendered six sacks on the day, tying their Week 7 fiasco in Washington where both Dalton and then third-string rookie Ben DiNucci were sacked three times apiece.
Re-watching the game film didn’t show any one player getting worked over on a regular basis. What we can say is that the problem didn’t come from the team’s weakest link, right tackle Terence Steele. Instead, it can be chalked up to some tough challenges presented by the Giants defense. There were a couple instances where each of the two Connor’s got mauled over by the pass rushing skills of Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, but it’s hard to ask these players to fend these guys off the entire game.
What the team struggled with the most is handling the blitzes as the Cowboys had a tough time picking them up. Whether it was a failure in assignment or just a lack of enough blocking resources, they had problems when the Giants sent extra pass rushers.
Here is each one of the six sacks allowed on Sunday as well as what broke down with each plays.
The pressure and skittishness of Dalton also led to a couple of big missed opportunities when the Cowboys were driving the ball down in Giants territory. There were a handful of plays that had a chance for big gains, and possibly result in a touchdown, but the slight hesitation or off-balance throw caused them to fall incomplete.
In the first quarter, the Cowboys were in the red zone facing a 2nd-and-9, when it looked like they had set up a nice screen play to Tony Pollard after faking a quick pass to CeeDee Lamb to the left side. The Giants defense bit, but unfortunately Dalton double-pumped and tossed the ball over Pollard’s head. It’s a shame too, because that play had the potential to turn into something. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.
Speaking of double-pumping, late in the third quarter, Dalton pulled back a throw to Lamb, only to see the rookie receiver quickly take off to his right. Dalton recognized how open he was and tries to get the ball to him, but again just misfires. The veteran quarterback was off balance and he felt the pressure, but if he’s able to connect on that play, Lamb had a lot of room to run.
The Cowboys picked up the first down on the very next play, but still wasn’t able to find the end zone, thanks to yet another missed opportunity. Amari Cooper had his man beat and was wide open in the end zone, but Dalton’s throw floated in the air too long allowing Giants safety Julius Peppers just enough time to knock the ball away at the last second. If Dalton throws that ball just a smidge deeper, that’s a Cowboys touchdown.
Dalton on the run
Nobody expected Dalton to lead the Cowboys in rushing on the day. In fact, the veteran quarterback has played in a total of 144 games throughout his career, but he’s never played in one where he had more rushing yards (48) than he had on Sunday. While things weren’t always working in the passing game, the savvy quarterback did everything he could to help the Cowboys win the game, even it it meant sacrificing his body.
Whether it was just really good alertness by Dalton when the protection broke down or a designed play, the offense got a big boost from his legs. And while the Cowboys didn’t always finish the drive with a touchdown, his mobility gave the offense life down the stretch.
Schultz is tough to bring down
No list of pleasant surprises from the Cowboys’ 2020 season would be complete without noting the performance of Dalton Schultz. We all knew he was drafted for his efficiency as a blocker as he was viewed as that sidekick “James Hanna” or “Geoff Swaim” type complement. Little did we know that he would turn out to be so good as a pass catcher.
Schultz finished the season with 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns. This season was the first time he’s seen anything close to this type of action as a receiver, and he showed that he was up to the task. Not only was he a reliable target for his quarterback, but he did a great job churning out extra yards.
Don’t forget about this drive...
After the Giants scored to go up 20-6 near the end of the first half, the Cowboys had just 39 seconds left and the ball on their own 27-yard line. The offense quickly moved 40 yards down the field on just four plays consisting of two passes each to Lamb and Schultz. While the most memorable part of this drive was that the Cowboys lost out on an extra play due to having to a burn a timeout to prevent a ten-second run off, the drive itself was pretty important.
Greg Zuerlein bailed them out with a 57-yard kick, but to get down the field so quickly was something worth acknowledging. In a game where any type of points proved valuable, getting those three before the end of the half was very helpful.