No game comes down to a single play, but the New York Giants missed a fourth-and-short pass to Saquon Barkley that was a huge difference in the game. But in the end, the Dallas Cowboys did what good teams are supposed to do. After starting the game a little disoriented, like your uncle after devouring a plate of turkey, the Cowboys stepped on the gas and refused to take their foot off it.
Dak Prescott threw two first-half interceptions. The Cowboys had seven first-half penalties. They were shooting themselves in the foot at every turn. And while it took a phantom defensive holding call to extend their first offensive drive of the second half, Dallas was surgical on their way down the field.
Going 7 of 10 on third down is not sustainable, particularly when many of those came in third-and-long opportunities, but the second half showed the Cowboys’ ceiling while still displaying why Cowboys fans perpetually wait for the floor to disappear underneath them.
The Dallas Cowboys are Among the League’s Elites
Cowboys fans may not understand this yet. They’ve been on about the defensive struggles, particularly against the run. But even with the “eye test” telling fans the run defense is bad, Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranks them as 10th-best against the run. They rank sixth in success rate against the run overall but 18th in EPA. In other words, they can allow some big plays on the ground, but they’re a good run-defending team.
Many probably think the 2021 team was better, leaving them feeling underwhelmed this year despite their 8-3 record and top-ranked weighted team DVOA. Ironically, they ranked first last season as well, with an overall ranking of 34.6%. They were at 30.5% before the Giants game, and lead the league despite missing their QB for five weeks.
In other words, the Cowboys could argue they’re the best team in the NFL.
Since Dak Prescott’s return, the Cowboys’ offense has been nearly unstoppable, save for the Packers game. But what makes the Dallas Cowboys so intriguing is its well-rounded nature.
Since Prescott’s return in Week 7, Dallas is seventh in offensive DVOA and fourth in defensive DVOA. They possess arguably the best group of pass rushers in the NFL, led by arguably the best defensive player in the NFL in Micah Parsons. Trevon Diggs has not just been a ballhawk but a cornerback teams aren’t even necessarily trying to target.
But most importantly, Leighton Vander Esch is playing some of the best football of his career, and Damone Clark has sparked the other linebacker spot since his miraculous return from neck surgery.
The Dallas Cowboys offense is methodical. That is both a positive and negative. They can move the ball up and down the field with a balanced attack and cerebral quarterback play from Prescott. However, they lack a true big-play element. Kellen Moore deserves credit for trying with Ceedee Lamb, but the seam throws between him and Prescott have caused more fuss than fun since Prescott’s return.
And for the first time in Ezekiel Elliott’s career, he didn’t try to play his way through a nagging knee injury. He took a few weeks off, let the world become enamored with Tony Pollard (rightfully so,) and then showed that when healthy, he still has juice. He ran the ball 16 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, but it was his ability after contact against New York that really stood out.
Kellen Moore and the Cowboys have also found some thunder with their young group of tight ends. With a lack of high-end receiver play on the roster, the young and talented group has surfaced, culminating in a Jake Ferguson hurdle, a Peyton Hendershot touchdown, and a Whac-a-Mole celebration.
Mistakes Still Loom Large For Cowboys
From a pure team talent perspective, Dallas is in the top tier with the Chiefs and Eagles. However, Dallas has been as prone to silly mistakes as many of the lower-level NFL rosters.
Their penalty problem persists. Dallas entered the Thanksgiving game with the fifth-most penalties in the league. Dead ball penalties, particularly false starts at AT&T Stadium, are practically inexcusable.
Then, there are the miscommunications between receivers and Prescott that keep ending with the ball in the hands of a defender. Prescott is one of the best pre-and-post-snap processors in the NFL. He is surgical, but can also make very aggressive throws that turn into 50-50 situations. And when the receiver isn’t on the same page, those 50-50 balls turn into interceptions.
He threw two interceptions in the first half against New York and then practically played a perfect second half to finish the Giants. The first interception was arguably a defensive pass interference and arguably should have been caught by Lamb. On the second, he believed he had a free play and Michael Gallup had no clue the ball was coming his way.
It’s always the details that end up killing the Dallas Cowboys chances of taking the next step and finally making it back to an NFC Championship game. And unless they start taking care of those details consistently, fans will be weary of their playoff chances.
The New York Giants Were Impressive in a Loss
The Giants were down multiple key pieces in the secondary. They just lost Wand’Dale Robinson for the season, and their offensive line, aside from Andrew Thomas, is in shambles. And still, they fought to the very bitter end.
Daniel Jones missed a few throws he should have made, particularly two flat throws to the right side that could have extended drives. But overall, we’re seeing a Daniel Jones that, with the right supporting cast, can be a decent starting QB in the NFL.
The way he evaded pressure by stepping up and manipulating the pocket for most of the contest was a sign of legitimate growth. He made multiple difficult throws at the intermediate level of the field and threw a beauty of a downfield ball to Darius Slayton.
Things got a lot more difficult once Dallas jumped out to a two-possession lead, but Jones hung in tough.
The most impressive part of the game was the backup cornerbacks for the Giants. Again, things started to crumble late in the second half, but Nick McCloud, Cor’Dale Flott, and Rodarius Williams all contributed to a strong defensive effort in the first half. The Cowboys’ receivers were struggling to get separation, and although they were finishing some improbable catches, the Giants’ defensive backs were making them work for it.
The Giants have a difficult schedule down the stretch. They’ll need reinforcements to secure a playoff spot in a more taxing NFC than we originally anticipated. But one thing is certain; Brian Daboll has the New York Giants on the right track for the first time in over half a decade.