While the final 54-19 score was jaw dropping, the Dallas Cowboys win over the Indianapolis Colts is a very peculiar thing when you look at the stats and numbers. Some have to be looked at in the bigger context to make much sense. Chest thumping might need to be restrained. Some big flaws were hidden by the lopsided score. Positives also jumped out. That makes for some interesting observations and maybe a few conclusions. Also, there have to be some fun things when you blow a team so completely out of the water.
This is a number that can stand alone without looking at some of the odder aspects of the game. It has been a damaging one for Dallas in many games, creating an obstacle. Before the 13 flag fiasco against the New York Giants, which they won, the three previous highest totals for the team were the three losses. Given that all were fairly close losses, those penalties may have been a reason they came up short.
Getting penalized only three times for 43 yards was their best performance of the season. It was only the third time they had been flagged less than six times. Not killing your own drives or extending those of the opponent has a lot to do with the final score. When watching the game, it did appear that the team was more conscious of things like too many in motion before the snap, and offside penalties. If they can continue to keep the number of infractions down, it would be a big help for the playoff drive. Now they have to show consistency.
Normally if you see 54 points scored, you expect some big numbers on offense. That was not at all the case. The Cowboys only had 385 total yards, what you’d usually expect for maybe half that score, or less. Ever stranger, they had far more rushing yards, 220 to just 165 via the pass. There was clearly no need for more, but it seems to paint a much less rosy picture of the game prior to the record setting scoring explosion in the fourth quarter.
220 yards on the ground is something you will always take, because it means that to a large extent you are controlling the flow and tempo of the game. Getting 91 from Tony Pollard and 77 from Ezekiel Elliott is also great, with this very much following the pattern of Pollard being the breakaway threat while Elliott is pounding it against the opponent. They also ran back-to-back jet sweeps with CeeDee Lamb for 23 yards while rookie Malik Davis got on the field on the final drive to add 29, including his first NFL touchdown.
But while the ground game was working so efficiently, with a 6.5 yards per carry average, Dak Prescott was mostly making short throws. He was 20 of 30 with three TDs and an interception. What is remarkable is that Dallas just averaged 5.3 yards per passing attempt. That is usually much higher for Prescott. And through the first three quarters, the Cowboys had some struggles on offense. They had two three and outs and four punts total as possessions stalled, plus the interception late in the second quarter. Perhaps part of the approach was to help protect Prescott. Whether it was or not, the quarterback stayed clean most of the game, only getting sacked once and with just one hit on him credited to the Indianapolis defense. He also used his mobility well to protect himself on several pass attempts.
They would end the day converting seven of thirteen third downs for an acceptable 54%, but it still was not the excellent number you expect with that many points.
Further emphasizing the unusual nature of the game was that the longest play of the game was just 30 yards, and it was a Tony Pollard touchdown run. Half of the ten longest gains for the day came on the ground.
This and other things make this game seem like an anomaly rather than a clear indicator of what the team is. The true key to how things turned out was not on offense.
Defense gone wild
The reason for such a paltry offensive output in an extremely high scoring effort was the defense. Five takeaways, one of which went for an instant touchdown, set up short fields and made big numbers on offense unnecessary. They had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. In addition to the return score, they set up two other TD drives deep inside Colts territory. For the day they held Johnathan Taylor to 82 yards, and overall just yielded 106 yards on the ground. They also got to Matt Ryan for three sacks, none from the usual EDGE suspects.
Five takeaways is great. It is also not something reliable. Ryan came into the game with 10 interceptions and only 11 touchdowns, so it is not unsurprising that he was picked three times. This is not something we can expect to show up against the Philadelphia Eagles or anyone the Cowboys face in the playoffs.
Still, this was a great day at the office for the defense. DaRon Bland was the star of the day for them with his two picks, two passes defended, and eight total tackles. Malik Hooker had the third pick and that fumble recovery touchdown. Some made note of the quiet day Micah Parsons had, with only two tackles, a QB hit, and a pass defended. That is not the negative that some paint it to be, as it shows they don’t have to have Parsons being Superman for the defense to get the job done.
And quietly, Johnathan Hankins is proving to be an excellent acquisition for the team. He had five tackles in the game and greatly shores up the middle of the defense.
Red zone perfection
This is not only a very good stat from this game, it may be something that is starting to be consistent. The Cowboys were a perfect four for four in the red zone. That was a contributing factor to the low totals for Prescott as he completed two of his three touchdowns from that close range, and his third was just outside the RZ, with the snap taken right at the 20.
What is a really good sign is that this is the second week in a row they went four for four. Keep that up and the last part of the season could go very well indeed.
This was a game where the numbers definitely need to be considered in the overall context of a game that had two distinct phases. For nearly three quarters, the Colts stayed right with Dallas. That was aided by some Cowboys miscues. But starting with the Dallas touchdown drive that started in the third and extended into the fourth, Indianapolis seemed to cave. A couple of quick scores in the first minute and a half of that final quarter, including the Hooker fumble return, really took the wind out of their sails, and when the Cowboys defense stopped them with an interception on the next Colts’ possession, they pretty much were done. The last two touchdowns were largely garbage time things. Countering that is the 40-burger that was already up at that point.
We can probably expect to see a couple more dominant wins as they face the league’s worst team in the Houston Texans and the 4-8 Jacksonville Jaguars. But just like this game, those won’t really tell us how good this team really is. The true test is on Christmas Eve. Do not think that second meeting with the Eagles is going to be anything like this massive beatdown.