The Dallas Cowboys scrapped their way to double-digit wins after completing a come-from-behind 27-23 victory over the Houston Texans. It was difficult to watch for most of the game as neither the offense, defense, nor special teams could do anything meaningful. When it was all done and over, the Cowboys pulled out the win and are 10-3, and remain in the hunt for the top spot in the NFC. What can we make of all of this? Here are ten thoughts on this very unsatisfying victory over this one-win Texans team.
1. It’s the season for giving
The Cowboys drove down the field 76 yards on nine plays to take an early 7-0 lead. It looked like the rout was officially beginning. That ended quickly when the Texans went three-and-out on their first possession but were gifted new life when KaVontae Turpin mishandled the punt, setting up Houston deep in Cowboys territory. The Texans tied it up 7-7 six plays later. In all, the Cowboys committed three turnovers in this game, and the Texans turned them into 14 points. The only way the Texans had a chance in this one was if the Cowboys were sloppy and beat themselves, and sure enough, that’s what was happening.
2. Lost out on a golden opportunity
The first-half nightmare couldn’t end fast enough and it looked like this team’s second-half excellence was about to show itself when the Cowboys had a takeaway four plays into the second half. Donovan Wilson stripped the ball from Texans running back Dameon Pierce and it bounced right into the arms of Trevon Diggs. After Diggs danced around a little bit, he returned it 17 yards inside the Texans' 30-yard line. This presented a great opportunity to tie the game or go ahead, but unfortunately, neither happened when the Cowboys turned it over on downs.
3. Good call, bad result
After the Cowboys takeaway, the offense put its head down and ran the ball nine straight times. They had some good runs and it seemed like they were breaking them down in the trenches, but the Texans tightened up at the goal line. After Dallas ran the ball on third-and-goal at the three-yard line and came up a yard short, they could’ve chosen to kick a field goal there to tie it up. But the Cowboys wisely decided to try to take the lead and punch it in, but Ezekiel Elliott was tackled in the backfield for a loss on a crucial fourth-down play. While the result didn’t go as planned, you have to like the aggressiveness in that situation.
4. Dak was out of whack
This Cowboys team doesn’t lose games when they have stable play from their quarterback. Whether it’s Dak Prescott or backup Cooper Rush, when their quarterback has a rating of 80 or better this season they never lose. And entering this game, anything less than 80 has resulted in a loss. Fortunately for Dallas, they escaped this game with a win despite a sub-80 passer rating performance.
Prescott was off quite a bit in this game. Whether the ball was deflected by a defender or just a misfire, Dak’s ball placement was not good. And for the third time in five games, Prescott has thrown multiple interceptions. The Cowboys will only go as far as Dak takes them and whatever was going on today is not something we want to see again this season.
5. Drop’em if you got’em
Dak doesn’t deserve all the blame for the Cowboys' passing woes as several of his receivers couldn’t hang on to the football. Everyone was getting in on the action as multiple receivers couldn’t come down with passes that should’ve been caught. Granted there were a couple of passes where a defender obstructed their ability to watch the ball into their hands, and there were a couple of other instances where the receiver was rocked upon receiving the ball. Still, the Cowboys missed out on many opportunities to extend drives and even score touchdowns because their pass catchers couldn’t make the catch.
6. The defense came through when it mattered the most
Overall, this wasn’t a defensive performance to be proud of. Sure, there were instances where the defense was put behind the eight-ball due to mistakes by the offense and special teams, but even in other situations, the defense couldn’t get off the field. The Texans' offense was just doing enough to get to the sticks and did enough to score four times in the first half (two TDs and two FGs).
Luckily, the Cowboys' defense locked down in the second half, only giving up three points. However, it should’ve been 10 when the Texans got a huge break after Tremon Smith intercepted Prescott down at the four-yard line. A touchdown there ices the game for the Texans, but that didn’t happen. In fact, Houston got a whole lot of nothing from that drive when the Cowboys' defense put together an impressive goal-line stand. Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarcus Lawrence each burst through for tackles for a loss and the Texans turned the ball over on downs.
7. The offense came through when it mattered the most
As incompetent as the Cowboys' offense looked for most of the game, they found it in them to orchestrate one drive at the game’s most crucial moment. After the defense made their stand, the Cowboys drove the ball 98 yards on 11 plays in 2:39. With a few nice pass plays from Prescott to Dalton Schultz combined with a couple of scampers from Dak, the offense flew down the field. It was as if everything we saw before was just a mirage. The team finished the drive off with an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown to take a 27-23 lead with just 41 seconds left in the game.
8. Bad call, good result
The Cowboys completed the comeback and we’re all happy with the result, but there was some questionable clock management that went down on that final drive. After the Texans used their final timeout, the Cowboys had the ball second-and-goal at the two-yard line. It seemed inevitable that the Cowboys would run the ball there, hoping to punch it in, and if they were stopped, then they could’ve run the clock down enough to ensure very little time would be left after the drive (the Cowboys still had timeouts available). Instead, they threw on second down and when Gallup didn’t come down with the touchdown catch, the clock stopped. The Cowboys did run it on third down, which would’ve accomplished the same thing had they not scored, so if that was their intent all along, then fine. But considering all the crazy turnovers that happened, it just seemed as if keeping it on the ground would’ve been the smarter choice.
9. Injuries taking a toll
For the second-straight game, the Cowboys lost a key starter. Last week it was cornerback Anthony Brown and this week it’s right tackle Terence Steele who left the game with a knee injury. We don’t have any definitive news on Steele, but early reports are that it’s not good. The Cowboys went to backup Josh Ball, but that experiment was short-lived as they then inserted the veteran Jason Peters at right tackle. The good news is Tyron Smith should be returning soon, so the team has some options at tackle, but losing Steele would be unfortunate as the third-year tackle was having a great year. And Steele wasn’t the only casualty in this one.
The #Cowboys got banged around against the Texans and will do more tests on several players to determine severity of injury:— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) December 11, 2022
Jake Ferguson (head/neck), Terence Steele (knee), Johnathan Hankins (shoulder), Dorance Armstrong (ankle)
Win came at a cost, and the cost is TBD.
10. The streak is over
Entering this game, the Cowboys had scored at least 28 points in five consecutive games where they also had at least 150 rushing yards. We learned that this was the longest such streak in 50 years when the FOX broadcast crew flashed the following graphic:
And with the Texans on the menu, it seemed like a great possibility the streak would continue. As we know, it did not. The Cowboys came one point short of hitting 28 and finished the game with just 127 yards rushing. Who would have thought the Texans would be the team to kill the streak?