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6 Cowboys lessons learned from the Thanksgiving win over the Giants

Cowboys school is in as we examine the lessons from the win over the Giants.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
Leaping lizards!
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There is an old saying that you learn more from defeat than victory. In the NFL, that is a hazardous proposition given how much each game means. However, a game where a team struggles but prevails can also teach some valuable things. That is the case for the Dallas Cowboys in their 28-20 win over the New York Giants on Thanksgiving. This was a far cry from the severe beatdown Dallas administered to the Minnesota Vikings and left us with a lot to take away while still seeing their record improve to 8-3. Here are some that stand out.

Yes, Zeke is still important to this team

While there would be several offensive stars in the game, the most significant contribution may have come from running back Ezekiel Elliott. He had 92 yards on 16 carries for a nice 5.8 yards per carry average, plus a touchdown. But that includes the final offensive series for the Cowboys when they were playing very conservatively with a 15-point lead and mostly wanted to take time off the clock. In that series, Elliott had four carries for only eight yards. Before that, he amassed 86 yards on just 12 touches, for an impressive 7.2 yards per carry. That included the three longest running plays of the game for Dallas. This was a game where he significantly out-gained his running mate Tony Pollard.

This points to the value of having two backs who can lead the way. They have very different running styles which complicates things for opposing defenses. That is always a good thing. And once again, Kellen Moore used a nearly even split of carries for the two. Pollard actually had two more than Elliott, 18-16. That balance between the two looks like a formula to stick with the rest of the way.

Dak was great, even with two picks

In the first half, things were rocky for Dak Prescott with the two interceptions that killed drives. But by the end of the game, he had not only bounced back to lead the team to victory, he did so in remarkable fashion.

Prescott seems to be completely back after his injury earlier this season, and arguably is playing the best ball of his career. And the game was a real blow to the idea of “dink and Dak”.

If he continues playing like this, there are few limits to where this team can go.

If they don’t stop themselves, of course

This is simply inexcusable.

It will be tragic if a bad day of infractions winds up costing this team in the playoffs. There is not much more to say that hasn’t already been said. This is a failure across the board. The coaches have not made any improvements and the players keep making mistakes. It is the biggest unsolved problem they have.

Yes, we have a WR1

Despite all the concerns about the wide receiving corps, which drives the fevered Odell Beckham Jr. speculation, it is becoming clear that CeeDee Lamb is not just the best the Cowboys have. He is one of the better wide receivers in the league. He is sixth in total yards, and eighth in yards per game among receivers who have appeared in at least ten games this year (he has eleven.)

There is an excellent chance he may exceed that by a good bit, given that he had his first two 100-yards receiving games in the past three. With Prescott back at QB, Lamb seems to finally be getting the targets he needs. It also helps that Michael Gallup is finally getting back to form. He contributed 67 yards to give the Giants two WRs to worry about. And both Lamb and Gallup had some very high-quality catches in the game, including one for Lamb that didn’t count due to an errant heel. This passing attack is starting to take off at the right time. And it isn’t just about the WRs.

This tight end group is turning into a real strength

Dalton Schultz had four catches, including both of the passing TDs. Jake Ferguson hurdled his way to 57 yards. And Peyton Hendershot scored a touchdown on a tight end sweep, of all things, leading to an epic celebration involving all four active TEs.

While Sean McKeon did not have any stats in the game, he was on the field for 17 plays. The Cowboys have started using a lot of tight end heavy sets - and it is working. They certainly are getting production from them.

But they are also using the TEs in the run game, and in a unique fashion for the league.

This is an unusual but creative innovation. It relies on having four willing and capable TEs on the roster. While this group is not likely to be intact next year with Schultz playing on the tag, for now it is just different. In a very good way.

Maybe the run defense has turned the corner

This one is not a given. But this was a game that seemed tailor-made for the Giants to exploit the perceived softness of the Cowboys’ run defense. Dallas failed to get an early lead, and it would have been a great time for New York to lean on the ground game and control the clock.

But the Cowboys shut down Saquon Barkley on the ground, limiting him to just 39 yards. His performance seemed off, leading to some speculation that he is not fully healthy despite not showing up on his team’s injury report last week. Backup Gary Brightwell seemed more effective in his limited carries, mostly late in the game. Dallas also kept Daniel Jones from hurting them with his legs, and held the Giants to just 90 yards rushing on the day.

Part of that was some good work by the linebackers and safeties.

And those second level guys like Leighton Vander Esch and potential steal of the draft Damone Clark usually have good days when the big ones up front are getting their jobs done. This one is more preliminary than the other things learned from the game, as we will need to see things sustained over the final third of the season. But it is very encouraging.

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