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The Dallas Cowboys improved to 4-1 overall, and 2-0 in the division with their 44-20 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. They beat up on another weak NFC East opponent, running their combined score this season against them to 85 to 41, +44. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s record against the NFC East improves to 21-6 and they now have a two-game lead in the division.
The game was a little bit of a let down, due to the amount of important players injured on the Giants team, but nobody cried for the Cowboys last year when they lost their quarterback and two starting offensive tackles. Dallas handled their business, winning all three games of their home stand in a stretch where home-field advantage means next to nothing around the NFL.
Maybe some believe that it’s impossible to learn anything from beating an injury-riddled team, but they definitely can, and here are some examples of what was learned this week.
The Cowboys luck with injuries could have been worse
No NFL team expects perfect health all season, but it felt the Cowboys had been picked on with a rash of short-term absences. Before the team played a single snap they lost defenders Neville Gallimore, Chauncey Golston and Kelvin Joseph. Week 1 they also played without possibly their best player in right guard Zack Martin. The Chargers game saw them have to play without either defensive end, losing Demarcus Lawrence to injury and Randy Gregory to COVID-19 protocols. Starting safety Donovan Wilson was out with a groin strain, and with Joey Bosa waiting, tackle La’el Collins got a five-game suspension. WR Michael Gallup went to injured reserve as well for a cherry on top.
Dallas went on to lose defenders Dorance Armstrong, Carlos Watkins, Keanu Neal, and Bradlee Anae in a multitude of ways for the Eagles game. Cowboys Nation was understandably concerned, but what was learned in the Giants game, and maybe what should’ve been known to the fans after last season was maybe the Cowboys aren’t so unlucky this year after all.
The Giants came into the game without their best offensive lineman by far in left tackle Andrew Thomas. Safety Jabrill Peppers and receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton also missed the game. New York went on to see their biggest playmaker in Saquon Barkley and then the starting QB both get carted off. Their top free agent, receiver Kenny Golladay, also missed the second half with a knee injury.
As bad as Dallas has been hit with bad luck, losing a LT, starting QB, star running back, and the teams top three receivers like the Giants did is another level.
The Cowboys are unstoppable running the ball
Running the ball successfully isn’t just about how good the offensive line is, or who the halfback is. That certainly helps, but it takes many elements to be a great running team. The Cowboys could be great at all of them, starting with the basics already mentioned.
Dallas doesn’t just have one good running back, but two. Even better, each back does something different really well. Ezekiel Elliott is a powerful runner who punishes the defense and wears it down as the game goes on. He is like the body blows in a fight. They can take a guy down, but it is more about what it does to the opposition over the course of the game.
Tony Pollard is the speed and electricity in the running game. He is the back used on sweeps to beat the linebackers outside when the safeties are playing back to protect from the big play. Pollard already has more than half the carries he had in 2020 in only five games, and is averaging more than a yard more per rush at 6.4.
The OL for the Cowboys is elite at run blocking. Tyron Smith, Collins and Martin do everything well, but the other three, including Collins replacement, Terence Steele are much stronger in the run game. While it takes a lot to be great, having the line and the backs are the basics you need. It goes deeper with Dallas.
In Week 1 Dallas showed opposing teams how great they can be passing the ball. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided they were gonna play up to stop the rushing attack and Prescott beat them constantly to the tune of 403 yards and three touchdowns. The league took notice and have played their safeties back each game since.
A key element to a great rushing attack is having the weapons to make the defense unable to play up on the run exclusively. Allowing a team to run against a light box makes it easier to succeed.
The better, more creative the play caller, the better the run game will be. Look at the San Francisco 49ers with Kyle Shanahan. No matter the injuries to his backs or OL, his teams run game continues to be impactful. Knowing when to call a jet sweep to Cedrick Wilson on 4th-and-1 for a six-yard gain and a first down is important. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore continues to improve his play calling with the more experience he gets.
Pairing the play caller with an elite QB only makes this element better. If Prescott can get up to the line of scrimmage, see what the defense is running, and know if the play will be one that works or not, that’s incredibly helpful. The QB can move a run to a different direction, or change to the play to a pass if needed.
Being a great run team can also be negative for a teams passing statistics. It shortens the game, lessens possessions, and keeps the QB and skill players from putting up big numbers. Last week against the Carolina Panthers CeeDee Lamb had two receptions for 13 yards. Prescott only threw for 188 yards. In the game against the Eagles, Cooper only put up three receptions for 26 yards. Nobody is winning awards with those numbers, but the team is winning games and not a single player is complaining in the media or on the field. Unselfishness is the final aspect to a strong running game.
The Cowboys have a complete team built to dominate every game by running the ball if that is what the flow dictates. The players, the scheme, the mentality are all in perfect balance so far.
The defense has the ability to cover up offense mistakes
The Cowboys are a team that wins with an elite offense and having an opportunistic defense. In the first quarter that narrative was flipped on its head.
Dallas started the game by turning the ball over at midfield. The defense held the Giants to one first down and only 15 yards during a stretch when New York had their QB, RB, and WR all available.
After a 10-play Cowboys drive that stalled for a field goal, the defense caused a three-and-out. The Cowboys again stalled in the red zone, fumbling the ball away and keeping the game 3-0. Dallas again caused a three-and-out, shutting the Giants out for the opening quarter. The offense finally got a TD on the board to pull ahead by ten, but it was on the back of the defense this time.
The defense went on to cause three second-half turnovers, including two interceptions of which one was a Pick-6. Even the best offenses are going to have bad drives, quarters, and even games. Sometimes the defense is going to have to step up, and tonight the Cowboys showed they have that ability.
No matter the circumstances, the Dallas Cowboys moved to 4-1 by beating the New York Giants soundly, 44-20. They put up over 200 yards rushing, and 300 passing for the first time since Danny White, Tony Dorsett, and Drew Pearson lead the Cowboys to that feat in 1983. The defense shut the Giants out in the first quarter, held the running game of New York to only 2.9 yards per rush, and turned them over three times, including Trevon Diggs’ sixth interception in five games, and an Anthony Brown touchdown.
The team is playing incredibly well and is on a four-game winning streak. The next test is the legendary coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, and a team the Cowboys haven’t beaten since 1996.