Thanksgiving is a day for family, food, and football. The next three days are the annual festival of the leftovers, with snacking aplenty. The way the Dallas Cowboys roasted and carved up the Washington Commanders gives us lots of tasty tidbits, although not all stand up so well. Here are some major things from this game.
Man on fire
The entire Cowboys team has absolutely flourished playing at home this season. But no one has been more comfortable in AT&T Stadium than Dak Prescott, who had another huge day on Thursday. It was the third home appearance in a row where he put up over 300 yards and four touchdowns. During that stretch he has only thrown two interceptions to go with those dozen scores, and had none against the Commanders. He is not just getting big numbers, he is getting just about every receiver on the roster involved. Ten different Cowboys caught passes against Washington.
All season, we have to remember that the quality of the opponents has not exactly been overwhelming. Things are going to be tougher going forward, with only the third team with a winning record so far up next. And the Seattle Seahawks are just barely above .500 after getting their own mauling at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.
Still, logic dictates that the massively lopsided wins at AT&T Stadium have to mean something. The average margin of victory for the five home games so far is four touchdowns, and it has been more than that the past two home games. Prescott has been huge there. They are in their longest home stand of the season, with the Philadelphia Eagles wrapping it before they spend a lot of time on the road to wind things up this year. If Prescott continues to play like this, they truly can beat any team in the league - at least at home.
Keeping him clean
Prescott is elusive and gets away from a lot of pass rushers, but he had a lot of help from his offensive line in this game. Not only was he not sacked (also the second time in a row), Washington’s defense only had two quarterback hits all game. That’s remarkable, even against lesser competition.
All around, this may have been the best game all year for the offensive line, which is enjoying remarkable health for this late in the seventeen-game grind. There were certainly plays where Prescott could have taken a couple of bites from his turkey leg with all the time he was provided. And when he has that kind of time, well, you wind up with things like this:
There were four offensive plays for the Cowboys that went 30+ yards, all passes. As this chart shows, those were not short completions with a lot of yards after the catch, but almost all through the air. The reception chart for Brandin Cooks further confirms this.
Previously, Prescott has been criticized for his lack of deep passes. This game, he showed he can go long with the best of them. That led to an average gain of 10.3 yards per pass attempt. Folks, that will march the ball smartly down the field.
The running game is less impressive, but then it didn’t have to be
Dallas had exactly 100 net yards on the ground, which seems a bit paltry. But due to some failed early downs and way too many penalties, they often faced second or third and long. Prescott and his receivers just ate those up, converting 60% during the game. Overall, they averaged 8.6 yards per offensive play, even with the lesser impact from rushing. Tony Pollard had a solid game with 79 yards and a touchdown, plus a 27-yard gain when that offensive line was blowing the defense out of his way.
Before the season and during the first few games, there was a bit of angst from head coach Mike McCarthy’s statements about establishing the run. Good coaches make the adjustments they need to in order to succeed. Let’s give McCarthy credit, because he has fully embraced the new passing identity of this team. Against the Commanders, this was a quick-strike offense, with scoring drives that took very little time to get touchdowns. For much of the season they have ground out long drives that ate a ton of clock, but their lengthiest of the game went 95 yards in just over five minutes, and they scored twice from 75 yards away in just 3:00 and 1:25 elapsed time to close out the first half.
It’s going to get harder, of course. How well they can sustain things is going to be important, but the signs are certainly promising.
Defense bent, but came up with big plays
If you just look at raw volume numbers, this should have been a much closer game. Washington had 376 yards in total offense. They converted 46.7% of their third downs and had one long touchdown drive that pulled them within four points in the second quarter.
But outside that, the Dallas defense just came up with big plays to throttle them. Three times the Commanders went for it on fourth down, and didn’t come close on any of them. Four sacks would cut others short, and of course DaRon Bland made a huge statement with his record-setting pick-six to close out the scoring. A truly stunning season stat is that Bland is second only to CeeDee Lamb in touchdowns scored this year. Just imagine what this secondary might be next year with him and Trevon Diggs both patrolling the field.
There were times when softness against the run reared its ugly head, but they still held the opponent to 108 yards on the ground, and when the touchdowns started piling up for the Cowboys in the fourth the ground game became useless for Washington. Clean up those lapses and figure out how to keep the Eagles out of short-yardage situations to use their infamous Brotherly Shove, and they can be truly formidable.
One oddity of this game was the time of possession. That showed how the defense had some issues getting off the field as the Commanders held the ball for 36:54 of the game clock. Part of that was how Dallas needed so little time to strike on their scores, but that does bear some watching as the opponents just get better.
OK, time for the one thing that seems to stick in the craw almost every game. The Cowboys were flagged seven times for 48 yards, versus four infractions on Washington for 25 yards. They overcame those quite well in this game, but it still needs watching.
However, it must be mentioned that not all penalties are created equal. Donovan Wilson got hit for pass interference on a play that looked like a long touchdown play had he not grabbed Curtis Samuel, who became the first opposing player to hit the 100-yard mark against Dallas all year even without that one. Sometimes a flag can be more good than bad.
Still, it is hard to complain about much in this game. It was another beatdown of a bad opponent. There was so much deliciousness to offset the bits of bad taste. Let’s hope there are more tasty meals to come as the Cowboys continue their drive for the playoffs.