While it wasn’t pretty, the Dallas Cowboys were able to take a 27-13 win on the road versus the Tennessee Titans. The defense did its job holding the Titans out of the end zone for most of the night and forcing two turnovers. The offense, on the other hand, wasn’t as sharp and committed turnovers of its own to keep a very short-handed Titans team in the game.
Luckily, the Cowboys were able to force the Titans and backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs into a one-dimensional offense in the second half which played into the hands of their pass rush. Eventually, the Cowboys’ offense found its way in the second half despite their struggles in the running game and early mistakes.
They were able to get it done and as they say, a win is a win. With Thursday’s win, the Cowboys improve to 12-4 and their chances of a repeat as NFC East champions are still alive. The Cowboys have their premier talent rising to the occasion to thank for that, especially facing a team so devoid of their key pieces. The cream rose to the top and here are your five stars from Dallas’ win against the Titans. We already handed a game ball to Dalton Schultz for his two touchdowns and seven catches in the game.
Lamb cut loose on Titans’ secondary
CeeDee Lamb continues to cement himself as the main man in Dallas and one of the best receivers in the NFL. Facing a depleted Titans defense, Lamb erupted on Thursday for eleven catches and a total of 100 yards. This last game marks Lamb’s third consecutive game of 100 hundred yards or more.
Lamb’s route running and creativity on his releases are among the league’s best wideouts, and he creates separation at the top of his routes effortlessly. He can play in any receiver spot but is most dangerous from the slot. His longest play of the day came from that spot lined up against Joshua Kalu.
Lamb started his stem up the field, gave a slight head nod to the outside, then broke his route inside to get away from Kalu, turning the safety Kevin Byard around the in process for a gain of 34 yards. After Thursday’s game, Lamb has now eclipsed 100 receptions for the season for 1,304 yards and is currently the fourth-most in the NFL.
No letup in Lawrence
Very similar to Lamb, DeMarcus Lawrence can play several spots along the defensive line, and it allows him and other pass rushers to create mismatches against the offensive line. That much was evident against Tennessee as Joshua Dobbs felt the pressure of the Dallas pass rush. Lawrence played with a renewed vigor and his effort was visible from the opening whistle.
For example, on one play the Titans were facing a 3rd and 16. Tennessee was looking to take advantage of an aggressive Cowboys pass rush, and threw a screen pass to the outside to try and pick up the third down. Lawrence, lined up over the guard and center, ran back from his upfield pass rush the other way to make the tackle on Chigoziem Okonkwo to keep him short of the line to gain.
Also, there were countless times when Lawrence was disrupting the play before it could even get started. Lawrence knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage and also forced a fumble on Dobbs after a great rush to get around the edge and go through the running back in pass protection. Plus, Lawrence did very well in run support to minimize the Titans’ ground attack. Most importantly, he looks healthy and fresh at the right time of the year.
Hilton’s helping hands
Last week, head coach Mike McCarthy had said that new Cowboys receiver T.Y. Hilton was beyond the ramp-up stage and up to speed within the Cowboys offense. You’d expect nothing less from a decorated veteran like Hilton and it’s a testament to the time he’s put in. Hilton himself has made mention of his hunger to learn the offense and become fully acclimated within the scheme.
So far, so very good. Hilton’s first two games have been exactly what the Cowboys were looking for when they were in search of receiving help. His heroics last week and his conversion on 3rd and 30 are likely a sign of things to come. In his short time with the team, Hilton has been targeted six times and caught five of those passes for 102 yards. Four of those receptions have been on third-down conversions.
Like last week, when the Cowboys needed to extend a drive going in the fourth quarter, there was Hilton. Facing a 3rd and 10 on their side of the field and holding on to a 17-13 lead, Prescott found Hilton on a drag route well short of the first down marker. Hilton managed to shake an oncoming tackle from Andrew Adams and got free down the right sideline for a gain of 28 yards. As teams make more of an effort to take away CeeDee Lamb in the passing game, look for T.Y. Hilton to step up.
Fowler the prowler
Previously mentioned was how DeMarcus Lawrence’s versatility along the defensive line creates opportunities for mismatches. One player who benefits from that is Dante Fowler. Fowler is a name that gets overlooked when talking about the Cowboys’ defensive line because there is so much depth. He and a player like Sam Williams allow the Cowboys to keep their edge rushers well-rested at the end of games.
People forget, Fowler was once a top three draft pick and still flashes the talent that made him such. Look at his strip-sack of Joshua Dobbs as proof. Fowler’s speed out of his stance gets him around the edge against Le’Raven Clark. Once he gets past Clark, Fowler attacks the ball in Dobbs’ hands and the Cowboys recovered the loose ball.
Fowler’s turnover was his sixth sack of the season and the third-highest season total in his career. Though it may not seem like much you have to consider his usage this season. Fowler has only accounted for 30% of the defensive snaps and yet still is having one of the most productive years. Once again, it speaks to the depth of this team and it’s a luxury to have a complimentary piece with skills in the defensive line rotation.
Watkins stuffs the Titans’ run game
When Jonathan Hankins was lost to a pectoral injury, there was a growing concern that the Cowboys’ running defense was going to suffer. Thanks to Carlos Watkins the team has been better in that area the last two weeks. After making his presence felt on a key turnover against the Eagles, Watkins was back at it Thursday and slowed the Titans’ ground game.
For his size, Watkins is sneakily agile and made several stops at the line of scrimmage. Watkins was tied for the most tackles among the defensive lineman with five, including one tackle for loss. In total, Watkins and the defense’s efforts held the Titans’ running backs to 65 yards on 18 carries for 3.6 yards per rush attempt. Watkins was the truth in the trenches.