Sunday night was supposed to be the start of three potential trap games for the Dallas Cowboys leading up to their all-important rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles. Hosting the Colts on Sunday Night Football, by the fourth quarter, the only team caught in a trap was the visitors, completely overmatched with new head coach Jeff Saturday as the Cowboys pulled away 54-19.
The Cowboys put up more than 50 points twice last season, both against inferior NFC East opponents. This year, the NFC East has all four teams currently in the wide-open conference playoff field, but the Cowboys still made a statement with their 35-point win that they can surpass the Eagles and win the most competitive division in the NFL.
In a game that looked like it would stay much closer than the final score indicated, the Cowboys scored on a Malik Hooker fumble return in the fourth quarter and saw the offense punch in touchdowns on the next three drives - all following turnovers created by Dan Quinn’s defense. A Cowboys defense built to play aggressively with the lead in hand had to wait for the offense to wake up a bit, but in the end the Cowboys still rushed for 220 yards and scored three touchdowns through the air with Prescott finding CeeDee Lamb once and Michael Gallup twice.
Here are a few notes on a statement win in primetime for the Cowboys, on the eve of their visit with free agent WR Odell Beckham Jr.
- Tony Pollard’s usage early in this game stood out as a potential change Kellen Moore was working through, but in the end it was another well-balanced game on the ground. Pollard was used as more than just an outside zone and receiving back, trying to find space against a stout Colts defensive interior. This helped set up Ezekiel Elliott for these runs later in the game, as he was also tasked with helping keep the clock moving in a game that got out of hand quickly. Pollard finishing with five less carries than Elliott but a higher YPC and two scores is the perfect complement in the backfield, and carried a Cowboys offense that put up seven touchdowns despite passing for less than six yards per attempt.
- The Cowboys have had no problem putting up points with Prescott under center, and this is when Quinn can dial up more pressure on defense. With a bit of a slow start on offense Sunday night, Quinn took matters into his own hands against his former QB Matt Ryan, and sent Donovan Wilson on a blitz that turned the momentum of the game. Wilson got to Ryan quickly, and the sack set up a Pollard touchdown to make the score 14-10. With the Cowboys having to keep their bigger front four personnel in the game to defend Jonathan Taylor, the blitz was needed to effect Ryan, and a banged up secondary held up long enough to take advantage of an offensive line that’s allowed the most sacks per game.
With Anthony Brown likely lost for the season, both DaRon Bland and Kelvin Joseph got a shot opposite Trevon Diggs - a spot in this defense that will draw a lot of throws. Bland held up the best here, keeping the ball in front of him, setting a hard edge against the run, and getting his hands on two interceptions. Having Anthony Barr back in the lineup was also a welcome sight, as he gives Quinn the best of both qualities this team is looking for at LB. Barr showed good range against the run, was used in coverage to take away easy check downs for Ryan, and got home on a blitz for a nine-yard loss in the first half.
- Getting Michael Gallup more involved in the offense has been a clear focal point for the Cowboys offense each week, so much so that the Colts prepared for Gallup by putting veteran CB Stephen Gilmore on him. Gallup drawing the attention of Gilmore opened up big plays for Lamb, but the biggest plays of the night from both receivers were a result of great pre-snap motion. With Lamb in motion for Gallup’s first touchdown, Gilmore went with the Cowboys WR1 and left Gallup working across the middle as an easy target for Prescott.
With how dynamic Lamb is in space, the harder it is for defenses to know where he’s going before the snap has helped create easy throws for Prescott and is a huge reason why the Cowboys lead the NFL in points per game since his return from injury.