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Cowboys lesson learned: Perfection no longer required

The Cowboys won despite a bunch of mistakes, and that is important.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
They had eraser plays.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

By the end of the 44-20 win over the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys were evidently the better team. They were playing against a roster that was missing almost all the original starters at the offensive skill positions by the end of the game. But if anyone thinks the Cowboys or their fans should feel sorry for them, they should see 2020 and what Dallas went through.

The final dominating score did not look at all likely at the start, however. The offense got off to a shaky start. Dak Prescott was intercepted on the first series of the game. He would later lose a fumble as there continue to be less than ideal snaps from Tyler Biadasz. Things felt like they were sputtering a bit until the second half explosion of points that we are now expecting every week. After being much better in drawing flags through the first four games, the Cowboys were penalized eight times for 58 yards. The defense continued to give up too many big plays, even after Mike Glennon came in for the injured Daniel Jones. Rookie first-round wide receiver Kadarius Toney was the main cause of that, with four receptions for 26+ yards, and he finished the game with 10 receptions for a massive 189 yards. He would likely have amassed even more had he not been ejected for throwing a retaliation punch at the head of Damontae Kazee, always a foolish move when you are risking breaking your hand on a helmet.

And all of that did not matter. A 24-point margin of victory is a blowout any day in the NFL. To do so with such a flawed performance is significant. Further, it is one more way this edition of the Cowboys is different. Under Mike McCarthy, they have figured out how to erase those mistakes. In the past, Dallas often had to play a perfect game to win. Since that is very difficult, they lost often in those situations.

It may feel like we are dogpiling on Jason Garrett, but that was a part of his way of running the team. He was going to play the game the way he believed was right whether it worked or not. Establishing the run was very much a part of his philosophy, to the point that other teams knew it was coming and loaded up the box to stop it. That worked too often. When mistakes happened, his teams did not have a way to overcome them except when his players had near-heroic performances.

Now, the team is able to not just overcome such miscues, but even do so easily. It is not just one player or aspect. It is a combination that could carry this team far.

It starts with McCarthy and his coaching staff. Kellen Moore is something of a wizard. It was in full evidence on the passing touchdown to Ezekiel Elliott.

Moore’s creativity is huge but a different aspect of his play-calling is just as important. When something works, he often goes back to it until the other team stops it. In past years, a successful play would often disappear for the remainder of the game. Now, the defense has to defend against both the expected and unexpected.

Dan Quinn has made a huge difference in the defense. They do get burned too many times as discussed above, but they also come up with key stops. And suddenly the defensive backs treat the ball as if it is just as much theirs to catch as the receivers’. Al Harris and Joe Whitt deserve shout outs for their work with the secondary.

That brings up the players themselves. The stunning surprise this season has been Trevon Diggs. He continued his streak of games with an interception, and now leads the league with six. That’s more than 27 teams in the NFL have collectively, pending the Sunday and Monday night games. Given where the teams involved in the last two games stand, that is not likely to change. Nothing wipes out defensive trouble more than a pick. And he is not alone, as the rest of the Cowboys have added four more interceptions. Two of them have come from Anthony Brown, who had a pick-six against the Giants. Brown has gotten a lot of criticism this season, and maybe it is time we reconsider that. Diggs is clearly the big stick of the secondary, but he is not the only one who will hurt you.

Then there is Dak Prescott. He got away with at least a couple of throws that could have easily been additional turnovers, but so did the Giants’ QBs. Meanwhile, he had 302 yards on 22 of 32 passing, with three touchdowns and the one pick that counted. He has silenced the concerns about his ability to go long, with a 49-yard TD to CeeDee Lamb, plus five more passes that went for over 20 yards. It is time the talk about him being less than 100% is shut down. There was a heart-stopping moment when he was grabbed by the foot and his ankle was twisted, but he popped up and went right on with his very effective business. The Cowboys averaged an excellent nine yards per passing attempt on the game.

We discussed everything from Sunday’s win during our official Dallas Cowboys Postgame Show here at Blogging The Boys. Listen to the episode on our podcast network or watch it on our YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast network to get access to all of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

Then there is the running game. Led by Elliott’s 110 yards and one rushing touchdown and Tony Pollard contributing 75 on the ground, they put up another 200+ yard day rushing, finishing with 201 for a 5.2 yards per attempt average. The offense can gash you repeatedly with their legs or ride Prescott’s arm. Unless you are playing lights out on defense, you are not going to stop both, and often you will stop neither.

As mentioned, the defense had a particular vulnerability to Toney, but they only allowed New York to convert 30.8% of their third down attempts. That is another way to get the ball back for your offense, and the fact that they only wound up surrendering two touchdowns for the game indicates that the big plays they gave up at times did not do real damage.

While we are talking about the players who are helping overcome mistakes, let’s praise one who did not make any. That is kicker Greg Zuerlein. On a day when missed field goals and extra points seemed to be happening to most of the teams, with the Green Bay Packers win over the Cincinnati Bengals the most glaring example, Zuerlein calmly knocked through all three field goal attempts and five extra points. After some (raises hand) questioned how worried we should be about him earlier in the season, he was one aspect of the game that was simply perfect.

It was an imperfect win in many ways. Even so it wound up as a very easy one. The injury woes of the opponent played a role. But we have seen in the recent past how the Cowboys would let mistakes pile up and overwhelm them. This year, they just find a way to erase those errors. It has staked them to a 4-1 record and a two-game lead for the NFC East.

Once again, this team just feels different this year.