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6 lessons learned from the Cowboys win over the Lions

The Cowboys win was a teachable moment. Let’s find the lessons.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys
The defense still can carry this team.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys welcomed Dak Prescott back to the playing field and came away with a 24-6 win over the Detroit Lions. Every week, we have a chance to learn some more about this team. Here are some things this one can teach us.

Yes, they needed Dak back

For the first time all season, the Cowboys scored three touchdowns. They threatened on two more occasions as well. This is much better than they did in any of the games with Cooper Rush playing. That is not meant as a slight to Rush, who did this team an enormous service by leading them to a 4-1 record while Prescott was recovering from his injury. It still is clear that this offense just works much more efficiently with Prescott. It was an obvious conclusion, but this game just hammered it home.

And that is despite him getting off to a very rough start. The team had back to back three and outs to start the game, and only mustered a single field goal in the first half. They had another scoring threat wiped out by the Noah Brown fumble in the red zone. It’s hard to blame Brown as it appears he was trying to protect his head and neck after being flipped completely upside down.

Things were much better for Prescott in the second half. He led the team on a 73-yard scoring drive after the Trevon Diggs interception. Then he added two more after being gifted short fields by forced fumbles. If this was indeed a case of him having to get back into rhythm with the offense, it promises good things ahead.

The team can still lean on the defense

Just like the offense, the defense got much better after halftime, racking up five takeaways. But they also had five sacks of Jared Goff, who had only been subjected to seven in Detroit’s first five games of the season. The pass rush somehow accomplished that without looking overpowering.

There were moments where the Lions got some good plays, but they only scored two field goals all game. That is a strong showing, especially against a team that had been strong offensively in several earlier outings.

Oh, and about that scoring thing.

If you have a defense that yields few touchdowns and an offense that is rediscovering how to score them, you have a winning formula.

Who is the best running back? Does it matter?

Ezekiel Elliott is averaging about 15 carries per game, and Tony Pollard about 10. That seems to be a successful formula. The coaching staff finally seems to have found a way to get both of them the touches they need, especially when you add in that Pollard is averaging about half a catch more per game receiving.

They have separate roles, with Elliott getting tough yards as he did on his two rushing touchdowns in the win over Detroit while Pollard is more of a threat to break big runs off, also something we saw against the Lions. But Elliott still had two runs go for more than ten in the game. Dallas still hasn’t had a truly dominant game on the ground yet, but it seems that will come. Now that Prescott is back, things should just get better for the running backs as his threat to throw the ball on any down can help loosen up defenses.

The Cowboys are blessed with having two starting-caliber running backs, but they don’t have to give either 20 or more carries to get the job done. That is a good thing.

It’s coming

After his performance in the preseason, we keep waiting for KaVontae Turpin to break one all the way. He came very close on his 52-yard punt return, the longest one in the NFL this season. It just seems inevitable that he will go the distance at some point. His elusiveness, vision, and speed are just remarkable.

Just as important is that there were no flags on the return, and the special teams have been generally good about that all year. John Fassel knows exactly what he has in Turpin and is coaching his unit well to make sure they can exploit it. We still have to wait, but this just seems like it is inevitable.

Dalton Schultz is tough

He is playing through injury, and was dinged up again in the game. But he came back in after that, and the connection he has with Prescott was still there. He caught all five of the passes thrown to him for 49 yards. We will have to see his status on this week’s injury report, but with the bye coming after the next game against the Chicago Bears, he will hopefully have some time to get healed up.

Fortunately, he is not the only egg in the tight end basket. Jake Ferguson had a catch and Peyton Hendershot snagged two, including the first TD of his NFL career. Depth is always welcome, but as long as he can take the field, Schultz is the main man.

Leighton Vander Esch’s quiet redemption continues

He was the leading tackler with ten. Since he is playing on a one-year deal, this is an important opportunity for him, and he is making the most of it. He is not as flashy as the pass rushers or defensive backs, but he is a solid presence in the middle of the defense. With so many stars around him, he can be overlooked. It is still worth noting the contribution he is making.

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