The Cowboys touched down in L.A. looking to put a tough week behind them and come out victorious versus a talented Chargers team. The NFL is a week-to-week league and an offensive unit that was so pass reliant in week one used their running attack to find a way to win a tough road game in week two. As we have become accustomed to in most Cowboys football games, there was many highs and lows throughout the contest. Ultimately the Cowboys battled a tough, young Chargers squad and came out with a much-needed early season win. Here are ten thoughts on the Cowboys thrilling victory in Los Angeles.
1. Greg Zuerlein gets his redemption.
The chastised Cowboys kicker came out of week one knowing that much of the loss could be attributed to his performance. In week two, he made sure Cowboys fans put that in the rearview. Greg Zuerlein came up huge for the Cowboys as he drilled home the game-winning field goal as the clock expired. Zuerlein found himself perfect on the day and the Cowboys needed every one of his points to pull out the victory. He had been dealing with recovery from surgery in camp and was rusty when week one arrived, but he is past that as he came through to even the Cowboys early season record to 1-1. The Cowboys will be a much better team going forward if they see week two Zuerlein for the remainder of the season.
2. A win doesn't excuse the clock mismanagement on the final drive.
With the game on the line and driving into field goal range, the Cowboys made a head-scratching decision to run a play within the hashes and then not use their final time out, or even hurry to the line and spike the football. Instead the Cowboys elected to take where they were as good enough and milked the clock down to four seconds left, setting up a game-winning field goal that Greg Zuerlein ultimately hit. The result doesn’t excuse the moments leading up to it. The Cowboys wasted upwards of 20 seconds of time with a timeout in their pocket to allow the kicker who was coming off a horrible game to attempt a 56-yard field goal as time expired. Hindsight is always 20/20, but in that moment the Cowboys had a few better, safer options they could've exhausted that would have made the situation much more manageable for the struggling kicker. The Cowboys won and what they chose to do worked out for them, but the execution and operation of late-game situations will need to improve if this team wants to take the next step.
There is this note about those final seconds:
McCarthy says the clock went blank in the stadium after Tony Pollard's final touch with 33 seconds left. https://t.co/KlzHUipAYr— Pat Doney (@PatDoneyNBC5) September 19, 2021
3. Safety play is much improved from last year.
Jayron Kearse was all over the field, Damontae Kazee made a crucial play at a big point in the football game for a second week in a row, and Malik Hooker was flying around and made his presence felt in his first football game in almost a year. All signs were positive for this safety unit and that is coming out of a game that starting strong safety Donovan Wilson didn't even play due to injury. Its been a very long time before you could say glowing things about this safety unit, but props needs to be given to a much improved unit.
4. Not all was perfect on special teams.
Penalties for both teams played a massive role in this football game. One that stands out for the Cowboys, thankfully ended up not backfiring on them. Late in the second quarter, just at the end of the two-minute warning, the Cowboys were called for a roughing call for hammering the punter drawing a 15-yard penalty that resulted in not only Dallas not getting the ball with a chance to score, but a chance for the Chargers to double dip before the half knowing they were going to get it again after the break. Luckily for the Cowboys a field goal attempt was missed and all can be forgiven, right? Wrong. In that spot the Cowboys made a massive mistake that could’ve been a huge turning point in the ball game. A punt is an admission of defeat. Let them give you the ball back, as you have won the series. To send the house in that situation, at midfield did not make much sense. If the Cowboys protect and block correctly, you give Dak Prescott and the offense an opportunity to score some valuable points before the end of the half.
5. Ezekiel Elliott is RB1 but Tony Pollard brings the juice.
The Cowboys have a two-headed monster in their backfield. Each back brings a different element and they complement each other so well. In this game the story was about Tony Pollard. Zeke was solid and made some key plays when needed, but all game Pollard was a game-breaker. Pollard found himself hitting the second level routinely and tallied over 100 yards rushing as the Chargers defense had no answers for number 20. This is how the Cowboys remain successful, take what the defense gives them and lean on the hot running back to carry the load. The Cowboys have continuously stated they are trying to find more ways to give Tony Pollard the football and it looks like they don't need to get cute about it, just turn around and hand it off. Pollard is a complete back. The Cowboys are in good hands when these two are clicking.
6. The offensive line held up well.
There were many nervous fans speculating if Terence Steele versus Joey Bosa was a recipe for disaster. All indications are the Cowboys offensive line passed the test and Steele held his own for 60 minutes. Having Zack Martin back was a huge addition and it showed in the running game as Dallas was able to lean on their rushing attack to will them to victory. Dak is very good about getting the ball out quickly but by all accounts he had the time he needed to facilitate the ball when needed. As many believed to be the case, the Cowboys helped with tight ends and running backs in pass protection and as the Cowboys fly out of Los Angeles with a win, you can confidently say their game plan was successful.
7. Micah Parsons brought some juice to the pass rush.
As discussed all week, the Cowboys were without their two top pass rushers and the question going into the game was, how are they going to get to the quarterback? Micah Parsons answered the bell and applied pressure that affected Justin Herbert in the fourth quarter for arguably the biggest defensive play in the game. Parsons gave fits to the Chargers right tackle Storm Norton all afternoon and was an important factor to a defense that hung tough and made plays when needed. The Cowboys drafted Parsons with the idea he would be able to do a multitude of things to help this defense, and this was the first of many examples of Parsons just being an elite level football player and not just an off the ball linebacker.
8. Cowboys will be able to win a variety of ways.
We know what Dak can do when the game is on his shoulders. Prescott is capable of putting the team on his back and throwing the ball 60 times a game if that's what it calls for to secure a win. However, what we have seen through two football games is that the Cowboys are capable of taking what the defense gives them and finding a way to win the game. This week they leaned on their running game and their running back tandem to grind out a victory. The Cowboys offense is a top tier unit, and it looks like the Cowboys defense is turning into an optimistic one as well. The Cowboys are capable of winning any game against any team, and they can do it in any style necessary.
9. Jaylon Smith was active and made plays.
Smith has been a target of much criticism for a while now, but this game is not the game his detractors will discuss much. He made tackles, was sound in pass coverage, got in on the pass rush, and most importantly, he played with confidence. Playing minimal snaps in week one, many wondered if the days of Smith having a big impact on a game were over. This week due to the things they asked Micah Parsons to do as well as the abundance of injuries, Smith found himself on the field early and often and he answered the call. There was a time when Smith played at a high level, and last year there was a clear regression in his game, but it is entirely possible that now he is in a familiar system once again that Smith may be a positive asset in this linebacker rotation.
10. Cowboys even up their record, now its time to take care of business going forward.
Many people felt this would be how the Cowboys would start their season. Find a way to split the first two and then face a division foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, on Monday night in the home opener. The Cowboys are the class of their division and they will need to take care of the division opponents one at a time to prove that to be true. That starts with week three and we can now say the Cowboys season is in full swing, Each game in an NFL season is important, and it is time to lock in and leave no doubt about the identity of this team moving forward.
We discussed everything from the game during our Dallas Cowboys Postgame Show on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss the next time that we go live!