Cowboys vs Giants Week 5

Cowboys vs Giants: Comeback victory comes at a hefty cost for Dallas

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Game Recap: Another comeback victory comes at a hefty cost for Dallas

The Scoop:

It’s easy to say that the first month of the season was a roller coaster of emotions for Cowboys fans, but Dallas managed to pack the ups and downs of a month into one game in their 37-34 victory over the New York Giants. However, while the Cowboys were able to make another comeback effort to pick up their second victory of the season, the win came at a hefty cost with the injury to Dak Prescott.

As has been the case for most of the season, the offense looked very good, with sprinkles of gut-punching mistakes, while the defense looked bad with occasional flashes of brilliance. Oh, and the special teams continued to be maddening.

That’s right, Dallas looked like Dallas has looked thus far in 2020 with one exception. With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, Prescott took off on a designed quarterback draw that ended in horror.

The Cowboys’ quarterback, and unquestioned leader, suffered a compound fracture to his right ankle, as well as a dislocation, effectively ending his season. I’ll touch on what that means moving forward later in this piece, but from there, Andy Dalton was able to eventually help this team extend the lead, give it up, tie the game, and win on the final play to take a half-game lead in the NFC East.

The game was as frustrating as it was exciting, and in the end, depressing considering the injury to Prescott. Say what you want about the contract negotiations and how much credit he deserves for this team’s success and failures.

Prescott is one of the great overall competitors and people in professional sports, and considering the type year he’s had in 2020, I can’t imagine anyone that could’ve watched that cart usher him off the field, tears in eyes and fist in the air, without understanding the devastation in that moment.

Can Dallas still be competitive without him? Yes. Was this team competing at a high-level, with or without him, considering this defense is playing as poorly as we’ve seen? Likely not. This game leaves us with limited optimism, but a realistic sense of pessimism as well, all while questioning our quarterback’s future.

What went right:

Cowboys stick to the run game early

This is the first time I have truly been thrilled with a coaching decision in 2020. After falling behind 17-3 in the first quarter, Dallas fans had to feel like they were experiencing déjà vu. As the pattern has played out all season, this Cowboys offense was supposed to abandon the rushing attack and jump into the “comeback mode” that results in Dak Prescott throwing the ball 50 or more times.

However, Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore didn’t panic. On the ensuing drive, Dallas marched 14 plays in just under seven minutes to cut the lead to seven. The series included ten designed runs (nine to Ezekiel Elliott, one to Tony Pollard), as well as a couple of play-action passes that were benefitted by their commitment to the run.

That’s right, Dallas stuck to the run game, and it paid off for them. On the following series, the defense had the strip-sack that Anthony Brown returned for another touchdown, and just like that, the game was tied again.

I get the concept of the clock working against you when you get down big early, but this offense is still capable of putting together those methodical drives that can shift the momentum. Considering the deficiencies Dallas is dealing with on the defensive side of the ball, any time this offense can give them time to rest on the sidelines and make adjustments, it’s a good thing.

Offensive skilled position players

The receivers have been outstanding all year. This week was CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup’s turn, as Lamb made play after play, and Gallup came up with two more clutch catches that are starting to become his trademark.

Still, it’s hard not to love the way each player stepped up when their number was called. Amari Cooper was a non-factor for most of this game, but when the ball came his way on the final drive, he is the one that got this offense on the move with a 15-yard reception in heavy traffic.

He does catch that ball with a defender bearing down on him, and now we are likely to focus on a play that gets the clock moving to avoid giving the ball back to New York with enough time to put together their own game-winning drive.

Cedrick Wilson caught all four targets that came his way and showed his versatility by hitting Dak Prescott for a touchdown pass. On top of that, Ezekiel Elliott looked great running and catching the ball, and Tony Pollard got back to playing with that energy that makes defenses look like they are running in mud.

Everyone loves the cliché about not having enough balls to go around, but credit has to be given to this group of playmakers that continues to make the most of the touches they do get, with few exceptions.

Offensive line stays in tact

How about that? The Cowboys started and ended a game with the same five offensive linemen. Let’s be honest, the Giants aren’t exactly the most gifted front-seven in football, but this bunch did a solid job blocking for the run and in pass protection.

Tyler Biadasz did have a pair of early snaps, with the latter ending in a fumble that helped the Giants take a fourth-quarter lead, but other than that, it was a solid day for the rookie. This bunch helped Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard average just a hair under five yards per carry on 25 runs.

Both Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton had ample time to throw as the Cowboys were able to complete nearly 75 percent of their passes in the game for 288 yards. They did give up a pair of sacks, but overall, it was a very good showing for the offensive line.

This unit hasn’t gotten much good news over the past two weeks, with La’el Collins and Tyron Smith being lost for the season, and Joe Looney heading to IR. Still, they stepped up big this week, and that will have to be the case moving forward as well.

Defense looks more aggressive

I’m not going to get carried away after Dallas gave up 34 points to the worst-ranked offense in the NFL. Still, I liked some adjustments that were made. This defense looked much more aggressive, especially in obvious passing situations.

We saw some elaborate blitzes that got home, and overall, the Cowboys routinely got pressure on the passer. I’m not sure if that was the plan this week, or just a result of an offensive line that still has a lot of room to grow.

Maybe it had something to do with Mike Nolan moving out of the booth and onto the sideline. Whatever the case may be, we certainly saw a difference. Not only were our traditional pass rushers getting home, but linebackers and defensive backs were getting in on the action too.

The Andy Dalton Insurance Policy

Dak Prescott hasn’t given the Cowboys much reason to need a quality backup at quarterback, but Dallas has regularly invested in it. The most recent example was Dalton, and following the unfortunate circumstance of Prescott’s injury, the nine-year starter will now be leading the Cowboys’ offense for the remainder of the season.

There’s no arguing that Dalton has the experience to make the Dallas fanbase feel slightly better than they should at this time. However, there is also no doubt that this offense is not going to operate as it did with Prescott.

Maybe the most concerning part of all this is that the offense has been tasked with carrying this team in the first five games. With that in mind, the only chance that the Cowboys have at being competitive is if this offense continues to play well.

My biggest concern with Dalton is that he’s thrown double-digit interceptions in all but two of his seasons as a starter in the NFL. Turnovers are that much more disastrous with this defense struggling as they have been early on.

Maybe the Cowboys start committing to their rushing attack that much more moving forward, but with these receivers, it’s going to be hard not to put the ball in the air. What Dallas, and more importantly, Kellen Moore, needs to do is help keep Dalton grounded.

Moore played his entire career with an excellent understanding of his own limitations. He has helped Prescott in that area as well, and hopefully, he can do the same for Dalton. He must understand the moments where taking a risk is tolerable and when it’s not, as well as what his arm is capable of at this point in his career. If that happens, this offense can keep operating at a relatively high level.

What went wrong:

The Dak Situation

It seemed like Prescott wasn’t even on the cart before the debate about his contract situation and who was filling up every social media platform. People blaming Stephen and Jerry Jones. People blaming href=”https://www.sportscasting.com/dak-prescott-just-lost-a-144-million-gamble/” target=”_blank” >Prescott and his representation.

I’ll be honest, I think everyone is overreacting, and quite honestly, they all sound silly. I get the emotion of what happened and letting those emotions cloud your judgment. Still, while there is blame to go around, it’s not going to matter in the end.

People can criticize Jerry Jones for many things, but screwing over his players is not one of them. He has always been loyal to his guys, sometimes to a fault, and while a deal didn’t get done, he has made it clear that nothing has changed about his commitment to Prescott.

I had a conversation with BloggingTheBoys.com’s R.J. Ochoa that night, about Ochoa using the term “greed” in his blame of the Jones’s. Obviously, he didn’t mean in terms of actual money. It’s not as if Jerry and Stephen Jones were going to pocket the cash they saved on the Prescott deal.

The Jones’s don’t want to overpay Prescott for the simple reason that they want to win a Super Bowl, and you do that by producing the best possible 53-man roster. Yes, Prescott needs to be a part of that 53-man roster, but so do guys like Michael Gallup and Leighton Vander Esch (assuming he’s healthy).

Obviously, you can’t keep them all. We most-recently learned that when Dallas had to let Byron Jones walk this past offseason. Still, we have to continue to improve this roster because it’s clearly not good enough. Every player we can keep, that is worth keeping, helps this team in that effort.

Where I do agree with Ochoa is in his initial reasoning for the blame that falls on the Jones’s. A deal for Prescott should have been done before this past offseason, and that brings me to the Ezekiel Elliott deal. Elliott should technically still be on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal.

We had other players that needed to be extended when Elliott decided he was willing to sit out if he wasn’t given an extension. I understand why Elliott did what he did. The Cowboys had Super-Bowl aspirations heading into last season, and he was a big reason why.

Running backs don’t have a long shelf-life in the NFL, and he knew that was the time when he had the most leverage. Still, Dallas should have gotten the deal done with Prescott first. The annual inflation of contracts that go to quarterbacks is much greater than running backs.

Additionally, Prescott is a captain on this team and a model human being, whereas Elliott has not exactly had the best history since his days at Ohio State. I believe Elliott would have held out without the contract, but the Cowboys should have stuck to their guns and got Prescott done first.

That’s a big reason why Prescott is in the position he’s in right now. However, Prescott, former-agent Jeff Guerriero, and current-agent Todd France all have their role in this as well. The Cowboys made plenty of offers to Prescott, including one that was rumored to be what he wanted annually.

The only issue was Prescott wanted four years, not five. With the league expected to engage in negotiations on a new media rights deal with their network partners, players have been pushing to time their next contract around 2023.

The current deal expires in 2022, and a new deal would likely see a significant increase in the salary cap in 2023 or 2024. Russell Wilson timed his deal to be a free agent after 2023, while Jared Goff and Carson Wentz both timed theirs to expire the following offseason.

Still, Prescott’s camp wanted to hit free agency following that 2023 campaign, and that was worth not agreeing upon a deal in their eyes. It was a gamble and one that has put them in a precarious position following the injury.

However, I just don’t see this being an issue down the road. As I said, the front office wants Prescott here, and Prescott wants to be here. I don’t see this being leverage for the Cowboys because the Jones’s have always been fair to the players they want to keep.

Elliott got paid like a top running back. Amari Cooper got paid like a top receiver. Zack Martin got paid like a top guard. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins both got paid like top tackles. Demarcus Lawrence got paid like a top defensive end. Jaylon Smith got paid like a top linebacker. And yes, Prescott will eventually get paid like one of the top quarterbacks in this game.

Yes, for a moment, there was devastation revolving around Prescott’s injury. Still, there is no player on this roster that I expect to come back stronger and more determined from this than I do the fifth-year signal-caller. Prescott will be back, and he will be in Dallas for a long time.

Defensive Tackles continue to have it rough

This bunch did not look good early. The interior players for New York were driving our defensive tackles backward, and Devonta Freeman looked like he’d gotten his hands on a time machine. I mean, Freeman was sitting on his couch watching football with the rest of us when the season started, and on the first drive, he ripped off three runs for 20 yards.

When it starts getting to the point where it doesn’t even matter who is running the football, it’s bad. I have to give the offense credit because when we went down 17-3, it seemed like we were going to see Jason Garrett fall into his familiar ways of pounding the opposing team into submission with the run game.

If our offense doesn’t answer with a touchdown, and if Demarcus Lawrence doesn’t get that strip-sack, I think this game goes in a much different direction, one that wouldn’t have worked out for Dallas.

On top of that, Trysten Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL. It’s not like Hill was playing extremely well, but after a rookie year that saw the Cowboys hesitating to even put him on the field, it was at least good to see him playing.

Dallas secondary is grasping at straws

At this point, our secondary is just crossing their fingers for help. Help from the pass rush. Help from opposing quarterbacks in the form of off-target throws or misreads. Help from pass catchers that drop the ball.

We just aren’t breaking on passes, and we definitely aren’t getting our hands on the ball. Our defensive backs are even struggling to diagnose routes, which leads to both of those things, and perhaps the only positive thing I can say is that we didn’t have any major coverage busts (I’ll get to the fake field goal later).

I’ll say this Darius Slayton is a solid receiver, and Giants’ fans love him. However, I’m not sure he would even dress on the Cowboys’ gameday roster. Yet, he played as well as any receiver on the field, which is on our secondary.

I thought Anthony Brown would help, but right now, I’m leaning towards accepting the same hopeless realization that I have come to with the defensive tackles. We just don’t have the right guys to get the job done. It’s frustrating but true.

Donovan Wilson looks to be no different than Darius Thompson or Xavier Woods in that he has no problem coming downhill against the run, but offers very little in coverage. This defense has one interception (second-lowest mark in the NFL), and it was on a play where Aldon Smith hit the quarterback, forcing an awkward throw that went right to Chidobe Awuzie.

Right now, we have four defensive backs in our starting rotation that are in contract years. Pretty soon, I hope Awuzie, Woods, Jourdan Lewis and Daryl Worley start playing like it.

Special Teams issues again

This is getting old. This isn’t defensive tackles playing in a system that isn’t catered to their size. This isn’t a secondary that just doesn’t have enough talent. This about being smart and disciplined.

The Cowboys were bailed out on their first blunder when former-Cowboy, Cameron Fleming didn’t get lined up quick enough on the fake field goal that ended with Evan Engram catching the ball wide open for a touchdown.

Not sure how guys lining up couldn’t tell that one side of the line was missing a player, but sure enough, there was Engram all by himself when the ball was snapped. Fleming was just not quick enough to get into his stance.

However, Dallas wasn’t so lucky in the third quarter when they lined up with 12 men on the field on a punt return. Not sure how it’s not communicated which unit is taking the field, but that mistake cost the Cowboys five yards, which put the Giants in field goal range.

Gano went on to drill his third field goal of the game from 50 or more yards, and it cut the Cowboys lead to a single point. It’s bad enough when mistakes on special teams cost Dallas field position, but in 2020, we are seeing them cost us points.

This has to stop. Also, am I the only one concerned with the movement on Greg Zuerlein’s field goal attempts?

Where do the Cowboys go from here?

Can this offensive line stay healthy and gel

The offensive line has seen its share of makeovers dating back to Travis Frederick’s decision to retire. Still, on Sunday, we saw the unit that Dallas is expected to play with moving forward this season.

Sure, Joe Looney could return. However, when the Cowboys got their hands on Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round, hopes were that we had secured our future center. The job is now in his hands, and if he plays like he is capable of playing, I don’t think that changes.

I love having Looney on this team. He is a favorite in the locker room, and he’s an experienced veteran. Still, I hope Biadasz leaves no doubt in our minds of who the starting center on this team should be. The more he, Zack Martin, and Connor Williams gain chemistry, the brighter this group’s future will be.

At tackle, this is as good as it’s going to get this season. I thought Brandon Knight and Terence Steele played well enough against the Giants, although New York is at a void of talent when it comes to edge rushers.

The coaching staff also did a better job of helping them this week, and that will have to continue because Andy Dalton isn’t as strong or elusive as Dak Prescott. He is going to need clean pockets and time to throw the football. That means we need this offensive line to continue to grow together and play well.

Will Dak’s absences for Cowboys offense to shorten games with the run

If Andy Dalton were capable of winning games like Dak Prescott, he’d still be in Cincinnati. I like Dalton, and with the playmakers this offense has, I still think this offense can play at a high level.

However, that isn’t what we need from our offense. It’s not enough for our offense to play at a high-level. They need to play well enough to offset the deficiencies of this defense.

That’s not fair to ask of them, but it’s this team’s reality. We do have the pass rushers to make plays occasionally, but that means forcing obvious-passing downs. To do that, we have to be better against the run, and I just don’t see that happening without adding new personnel or changing the scheme.

With that being said, I think this offense may revert to what they were in past years under Jason Garrett. I see us committing to the run and attempting to churn out long drives that give this defense the chance to rest and make adjustments.

Yes, that may mean that Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, or Michael Gallup are occasionally neglected, but that is what it will take. Cedrick Wilson’s involvement may decrease, and we may see more of Blake Bell and Sean McKeon.

Still, if it leads to winning, that is what needs to be done, and with Andy Dalton at the helm, I think it’s our best chance. Sure, Dalton can still throw the football, and we got a glimpse of that against the Giants.

However, if Dalton is throwing the ball an average of 50 times a game, which is what Prescott was averaging through the first four games of the season, then winning is most likely not happening.

It’s Ezekiel Elliott’s time to shine. Tony Pollard needs to step up too. We may even see some of Rico Dowdle, which would be nice after hearing some of the reviews we did about him during training camp practices.

The bottom line is this running game needs to take this offense over, and Dalton’s job as a passer should be much simpler than what we were asking of Prescott through the first month of the season. That is the winning formula for these Cowboys.

Does the defense continue to see new faces

How many of you needed to look up who Steven Parker was at some point during the game? For those that did, it had to be somewhat inspiring to see that he played for the Dolphins a year ago and had two interceptions.

We also got to see more of Francis Bernard and Bradlee Anae, and Neville Gallimore was even on active the active roster for the first time in weeks. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Guys like Aldon Smith and Everson Griffin are much more capable of having an impact than Anae, but they are most likely not going to be around in a year.

Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Justin March are on one-year deals as well. As I mentioned earlier, half the players we dress in the secondary are on expiring contracts. I know it’s never a great idea to look ahead a year this early in the season, but we didn’t even get a preseason.

It’s nice to see what we have in some of these younger players, especially on the defensive side. Also, let’s be honest, this division may not even be won by a team with a winning record.

I like seeing players that could have a future on this team getting opportunities, and there are more we could see as well. At just under six feet, two inches and 315 pounds with over 33-inch arms, Justin Hamilton has the build we are looking for at defensive tackle.

I’d like to see him elevated to the game-day roster from the practice squad. Rashard Robinson has played games in the NFL before at cornerback. He played significant snaps as a rookie in San Francisco and did it again the following year as a member of the Jets.

He’s got a troubled past, and that extends all the way to his days in college. Still, if he has straightened his life out, give the guy a chance.

The same could be said for Reggie Robinson, who is on the current roster, but Dallas has made it a point to be patient with him. When he appears ready, even if it’s just in a sub-package role, let’s get him on the field.

Also, I said it last week as well, let’s comb some practice squads. If there is a guy that fits the mold we are looking for in our system, then there is no reason not to find a spot for him. This defense is what it is, and only players that are part of our long-term plans should be protected. Every other spot should be up for discussion and improvement.