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Crunching Cowboys stats: Washington game shows different ways to win

Turns out there is more than one way to demote some Commanders.

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys
It isn’t just interceptions that count.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

If you just look at the score, the fifteen-point Dallas Cowboys win over the Washington Commanders is pretty impressive. That margin of victory is not common in the NFL, which is mostly built to ensure parity and closer games to hold the interest of fans. In fact, at the end of the early games on Sunday, the Cowboys had posted the largest margin of victory for the week so far, with the 12-point victory by the Cincinnati Bengals over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night the second widest. Two touchdown wins are actually rather rare.

It certainly didn’t feel like an easy win, although that may be more about our apprehensions than anything else. In this week’s look at the raw numbers from the game, we’ll delve into how we saw some things that were not at all the way they went the first three games of the season.


The Cowboys might not have won this game if the Commanders had not been so horrible in this stat, while Dallas finally got the issue largely solved. Washington had 11 infractions accepted for 136 yards. The Cowboys, who have been frankly abysmal in this area, had only four called on them, all of the five yard variety.

It wasn’t just the gross numbers that were so gross for the visitors, either. Cooper Rush threw two interceptions in the game, but both were wiped out by illegal contact type penalties away from the play. The first not only took away a chance for the Commanders to score and widen their one-point lead at that time, it kept the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive alive. That is a potential 13-point swing (since Dallas had their extra point attempt blocked). The other would have given the ball to Washington deep in Cowboys territory with a chance to retake the lead.

Had those two penalties alone been avoided, they would have made this a much harder game to win, and could have tipped things to a loss. We have been very frustrated by the many self-inflicted wounds earlier this season. At last, we saw those issues fall on the other guys.

It’s not just sacks that matter

After leading the league through the first three games, the pass rush seemed much quieter for Dallas. They only had two, one on the very first possession by Washington when Neville Gallimore burst untouched up the middle to get to Carson Wentz, and the second early in the fourth quarter by Dante Fowler, forcing the Commanders, trailing by twelve, to go for it. The failure to convert on fourth and fifteen was probably too much for Washington to make up at that point.

But even more important were the eleven quarterback hits the pass rush inflicted on Wentz. He was under pressure the entire game, and would only complete 25 of his 42(!) attempts for 170 yards and a lone touchdown. He also was flagged twice for intentional grounding, which with the spot foul and loss of down is essentially the same as a sack. Don’t think the pass rush was slacking this game.

Meanwhile, the defensive star of the game was Trevon Diggs. He had an interception to snuff out a chance for the Commanders to score late in the first half, but it was the two big pass breakups that really stood out. The first likely prevented a touchdown. Later he would break up a pass on fourth down to turn the ball back over to Dallas. He is well known for his ability to intercept the ball, but this year his overall game has gone to a different level.

If you want a cornerback to neutralize the opponents’ top receiver, Diggs is your huckleberry.

Diggs wasn’t alone in stealing passes from Wentz, either. DaRon Bland was forced to step in when Jourdan Lewis had a problem before the game and couldn’t go. In his first work with the defense, he got the real game-sealing play on an interception with just five and a half minutes to play.

That set up a field goal that pushed the lead to 15 points with just 3:51 left to play, and there was no way Wentz was going to pull a miracle comeback.

It wasn’t all great for the D, though

When looking at how well the Cowboys defended the pass, you can’t discount the fact Wentz is, well, Wentz, and that they have some real issues on the offensive line. And they were far less effective against the run. Perhaps bad is the more accurate descriptor.

Washington would finish the day with 142 yards rushing, and they did it with a three-headed attack. Antonio Gibson had 49, Jonathan Williams 48, and J.K. McKissic chipped in 40. They averaged 5.3 yards a carry. Had they leaned more on the run early and not put it in Wentz’s hands too much, this might have been a very different game. Once the Cowboys opened up a two-score lead, the Commanders were forced to get away from the run as time dwindled.

Dallas has shown a vulnerability to the run all season. Now they have to face the Los Angeles Rams. That may actually be to the Cowboys’ advantage, as the Rams were 30th in the league running the ball coming into this weekend. However, it could rear its ugly head against the Philadelphia Eagles the following week. They stood seventh through the first three games. Dan Quinn needs to get something figured out by then if Dallas is to remain in contention for the NFC East.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ running game was mostly MIA

They could only muster 68 yards on the ground. Ezekiel Elliott had almost all of them, as Tony Pollard had a measly eight yards on six carries. Give credit to the Washington defense, which is very stout. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are especially effective up the middle. Things don’t get any better next week with Aaron Donald waiting for them out in LA. Dallas faces a choice. They either have to find a way to be more effective on the ground, or they are going to have to rely on throwing the ball. That may tempt them to rush Dak Prescott back, and that may not be a good idea at all, no matter if Rush is the first QB to win his first four career starts in Dallas.

The defense is still carrying the team

Our old friend Rabblerousr came up with this nugget.

Oh, and it gets even better.

That is a good trend line, one that also says something about how Rush has come in and kept things together while Prescott recovers from his hand injury. But Rush himself has no illusions about what is going on.

There is an admirable humility in that statement, but it also is a form of leadership that many teams don’t have in their QB2.

Now we will have to see if Rush will have to answer the call one more time, or if Prescott will be back much earlier than expected. But the team has gotten to 3-1, which almost no one expected after the first game. They have a lot of work yet to do, but as all these numbers show, they have been getting the job done.

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