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Cowboys still have personnel questions to answer after comeback win vs. Texans

The Cowboys escaped an upset bid at home from the one-win Texans on Sunday.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the good news. The Dallas Cowboys won their 10th game of the season on Sunday, a mark Mike McCarthy has reached in consecutive seasons - something that hasn’t been done in Dallas since the 1995-6 dynasty years. They also got some help in the overall NFC playoff picture with the Vikings losing at the Lions.

For the moment, all of this feels overshadowed by the way the Cowboys nearly let the Texans upset them in AT&T Stadium. Dak Prescott needed to awaken the offense and lead a 98-yard drive capped off with a go-ahead Ezekiel Elliott plunge, a drive made possible by the defense holding in the red zone with the Texans looking to put the game away off an interception.

This was the second straight game against the AFC South for the Cowboys, a stretch of three total that have been marked as nothing but potential trap games before meeting the Eagles in two weeks. With that matchup against Philadelphia now firmly in view, the Cowboys have one more tune up game at the Jaguars where they’ll need to put together a much better four quarter performance.

Here are a few notes on the Cowboys come from behind escape against the Texans.

  • Dak Prescott was clutch when it mattered the most in this game, but the play-calling from Kellen Moore was a big reason this game stayed as close as it did into the fourth quarter. The opening script included the perfect balance of run looks and play-action passes off of them, like a throw to Michael Gallup on a rollout that set up a Tony Pollard first down run the same direction. Whether it was Moore not trying not too show too much against a Texans defense the Cowboys underestimated, or some shuffling on the offensive line that led to pressures, the Cowboys got away from what was working quickly.

Prescott’s 39 attempts in this game were the most since the team’s last loss in Green Bay, and a mark the Cowboys are 9-18 overall when Prescott hits or surpasses. High percentage throws on first down were still what the Cowboys needed to start both of their field goal drives, as opposed to starting with runs that led to a punt or turnover every time.

  • The Cowboys have a new wave of lineup changes to work through with the injuries coming out of this game, but they may have finally found a winning combination at linebacker. Damone Clark and Leighton Vander Esch made back-to-back tackles on Dameon Pierce before Osa Odighizuwa’s tackle for loss held the Texans to a first-quarter field goal, which was followed by Pollard’s second touchdown. The Cowboys reclaimed the early lead and could have controlled the game from here, but instead saw the Texans reclaim the lead multiple times deep into the fourth. Clark and Vander Esch showing range against the run was critical as the Texans attacked the Cowboys with the same read option looks they can expect to see from Trevor Lawrence this week, and especially Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense after that.
  • Donovan Wilson has made his best plays on the second level this season, where fellow safeties Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse take care of the back end. Hooker got caught a step behind in deep coverage on Amari Rodgers’ 28-yard touchdown, with Wilson trying to carry the route up the sideline. With the Cowboys still figuring out their rotation at cornerback and seeing Kelvin Joseph give up several completions in this game, the time is now for these veteran safeties to tighten up in coverage. If this means Dan Quinn trusting his front to get home and playing more coverage, the Dallas defense did see Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, and DeMarcus Lawrence all step up against the run in this game from the front four.

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