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Grading the Cowboys loss to the Commanders

Time to hand out the grades on this week’s Cowboys report card.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As the conclusion of the regular season unfolded for the Dallas Cowboys, the final salvo was fired by the Washington Commanders as they celebrated a demoralizing victory over their division foe. This certainly was not how the Cowboys drew up their Week 18 plans, as they obviously wanted to finish the regular season on a positive note. A 26-6 loss to a team who was the inferior one coming into the game is not a good look. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the Commanders came in with a solid game plan and exploited the known weaknesses along their roster. Coach Ron Rivera and company also got fifth-round rookie quarterback Sam Howell to play a quality game.

We break down this week’s grades for America’s Team.

Tony Pollard returned to the playing field, but the running game once again was stuck in the mud

Grade: D+

Unfortunately for Dallas, their worst offensive performance since the season-opener happened just before the playoffs are to begin. Any momentum the Cowboys had prior to Week 18 went up in flames after the Washington Commanders thoroughly put a whooping on Dallas. The Cowboys were only able to muster 182 total yards, which is just over half of their normal weekly output of 354.9. To break it down a little further, the ground game only rushed for 64 yards which is less than half of their weekly average of 135.2. The aerial attack (including sacks) totaled just 118 yards, which is well off their normal pace of 219.8.

From a player perspective, Dak Prescott had arguably the worst game of his career completing just 37.8% of his pass attempts. The lone bright spot in the passing game came by the way of a CeeDee Lamb touchdown to score the only points in the game for the Cowboys. Tony Pollard’s presence was sorely missed in Week 17, but he did return in Week 18 which was the only positive in the rushing department as he surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in his career. Aside from passing that season mark, the rushing group as a whole was kept in check as they collectively averaged just 2.4 yards a carry. This showing on offense was not what the Cowboys had in mind, and it appears there is a lot of work left to be done ahead of next Monday’s wild card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With the offense leaving a lot left to be desired, the defense did what it could to keep the game within striking distance

Grade: C+

The scoreboard shows 26 points scored by the Washington Commanders, who this past week were led by rookie quarterback Sam Howell. The Commanders coaching staff had a solid plan in place to give Howell the best opportunity to play a decent game. Although he played a decent game, the defense for Dallas did not allow a massive output against this offensive group. The Cowboys defensive unit sacked Howell three times and also forced him to throw a bad pass in the endzone as Malik Hooker was able to secure the interception. This interception by Hooker would prevent additional points from being added to the scoreboard.

The Commanders took an old school approach to the game by playing ugly ground-and-pound football for the most part. They would tally 151 yards in the game, but it took 41 attempts to accomplish this feat. With an average of 3.7 yards per carry, the defensive unit stood their ground and made Washington fight for every yard on the ground. Commanders quarterback Sam Howell would only complete 11 passes in the game, with two of them going for over 30 yards a piece. The pass catching duo of Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson would catch six passes for a total of 146 yards and a touchdown. This type of performance by the Commanders offense against the Cowboys will be noted by other teams, including this week’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, will have his work cut out for him this coming week when he faces an offense that has the greatest to ever do it behind center. Quinn, and the Cowboys defensive group, should be able to right the ship and give Tom Brady fits. If they cannot accomplish this, then it will yet again be a long game for the Cowboys.

The normally reliable special teams unit had their worst showing of the year

Grade: D-

Of all of the bad things to have happened in Week 18, the play of this unit was the biggest shocker of them all. Through 17 weeks, it all was a forgone conclusion that this group would be the most steady facet on this year’s squad. That was the case until Week 18 happened.

The normally reliable punter Bryan Anger had an unfortunate miscue where he failed to secure the snap from long snapper Matt Overton. This miscue would force Anger to try and run with the ball which ended in disaster. This would give the Commanders instant field position at the Cowboys 20-yard line. Two plays later, the Commanders would cash in this miscue for a touchdown. A short time later, Pro Bowl return specialist KaVontae Turpin would have a miscue of his own when he would muff a Tress Way punt which the Commanders would recover. After the recovery, Washington would once again have great field position as they would start their next drive on the Dallas 15 yard line. Fortunately, the Cowboys were bailed out by a missed 31 yard field goal by kicker Joey Slye.

Speaking of missed kicks, the normally reliable Brett Maher would miss his only kick of the game when he missed an extra point following the team’s only touchdown on the afternoon. It was a very bad game, at a very bad time, for the special teams group. Hopefully this isn’t a trend from this group because they will need to be at their best going forward as the postseason is about to begin.

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