The Dallas Cowboys, our Cowboys, were indeed victorious on Sunday in San Francisco... outlasting the 49ers 24-17. This is a huge win as it moves Dallas to 3-1 on the 2016 season, a mark the Cowboys haven't reached since 2014 when they had a great amount of success.
There's a lot to be taken from this game, and that's what we're here to do. Here are my 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Big Win In San Francisco.
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Jason Garrett Is Doing An Incredible Job
The Cowboys are 3-1. They have played all four of those games without Tony Romo and DeMarcus Lawrence. They have played two of them without Tyron Smith and Orlando Scandrick. They have played one and a half-ish of them without Dez Bryant and La'el Collins. To reiterate... The Cowboys are 3-1.
The Cowboys Coaching Staff deserves an enormous amount of credit for handling these uncontrollable variables that have stacked themselves on top of one another. Bravo, Coach Garrett. Bravo.
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Ezekiel Elliott Eats Yards, Not Food
In today's NFL you're expected to contribute immediately, particularly at the sexy positions like quarterback, running back, and all that jazz. When you're taken as high as #4 Overall like Ezekiel Elliott was... that expectation is exponentially higher.
Remember that young Zeke is 21 years old. Now think about the 138 yards that he accumulated on the ground in San Francisco. Or think about how he, with 412 through four games, is currently the NFL's leading rusher. 21. Years. Old. Insane.
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Morris Claiborne Is Starting To Reach His Potential
The Cowboys best cornerback for the last two years has inarguably been Morris Claiborne. Even with the return of Orlando Scandrick this season (which hasn't exactly gone swimmingly), Mo is el numero uno.
DBs w/ lowest burn % Claiborne 38% Trufant 38 Bradberry 41 J.McCourty 41 Nelson 41 C.Harris 44 Newman 44 Norman 47 Sean Smith 47 Porter 48
There's no denying that Mo's interception in San Fran saved the game (and Brice Butler, but we'll get to that soon), but it honestly didn't improve his impressive game much. It was a poorly thrown pass that Mo capitalized on. Where Mo dominated the game was on every other play, effectively eliminating Torrey Smith (1 catch for 3 yards). He is our shutdown corner. He is starting to arrive. It's a beautiful thing.
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Dak Prescott Is Indeed For Real
Name something that you have done a hundred times without making a mistake. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Dak Prescott has thrown 131 passes (his first 131 as a professional quarterback) in the NFL and has seen not a single one of them land in the hands of the opposing team - that's an NFL record for most attempts by a rookie to start their career.
Dak Prescott hasn't necessarily been a fantasy football superstar, but through four games he's been marvelous. The word that keeps coming to mind, because it makes the most sense, is poise. Dak has been so incredibly poised. When his team went down 14, on the road, he didn't blink and did the work to get the job done. The future is in good hands.
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We Can Predict When Alfred Morris Will Be Used
Al Michaels said during Week 3's Sunday Night Football contest against the Bears that the Cowboys wanted to do what they could in order to keep Zeke somewhat fresh and energized throughout the game. The days of a true "bellcow" running back in the NFL feel like a distant memory.
Michaels said that the Cowboys want to substitute Alfred Morris in every third series for Zeke to catch some time on ice. Like clockwork, we saw Alfred Morris come in on the third series. It is an incredible luxury to have two starting-caliber running backs in the NFL, and using them in this fashion has resulted in a 3-1 record so we need to roll with it for now, and keep an eye out for it.
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Brice Butler Made A Horrible Mental Mistake
With about 12 minutes left in the game, and the Cowboys hanging on to a 21-17 lead, Dak Prescott hit Brice Butler for a 9-yard gain on 1st and 10. Awesome, right? The Cowboys were looking to drive to score and milk some time off the clock. Getting off to that kind of start would undoubtedly aid in that regard... and then Brice Butler had a horrible lapse in judgment.
Butler, who is from the Bay Area, was really feeling it this game. He caught his first touchdown as a Cowboy in the first half and indisputably got the most work he's had since donning the iconic Star on his helmet. He let those emotions get the best of him and got caught for taunting a 49er... and suddenly 2nd and 1 became 2nd and 16.
Great win!!!! Almost cost it with a bad penalty and endzone drop.... learn from it and move on.... let's go!!
The Cowboys were unable to get a first down and gave the ball back to San Francisco (which Gabbert kindly gave back to Morris Claiborne). These are the mistakes that will lose you games. Be better, Brice. We believe in you.
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Dan Bailey's Health Is Critical To This Team
Shortly before kickoff word trickled out that Dan Bailey, 2015's most potent offensive weapon, was dealing with a back issue. Spaghetti-O's.
This "issue" flared up very painfully as the Cowboys' first offensive drive stalled and left Dan Bailey staring at a 47-yard field goal opportunity. This is normally money for Bailey, but he was very obviously hindered and it showed as he pushed the ball left.
Dan would make a 22-yarder later in the game that pushed the lead to seven, but this is very very very important for the Cowboys. I've said many a time that we almost take Bailey's clutch gene for granted and just assume that his excellence is common. Feel better, Danny boy.
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JJ Wilcox Isn't So Bad So Far This Season
Perhaps the most picked on Dallas Cowboy, JJ Wilcox, isn't the worst player on the current 53-Man Roster. Weird, isn't it?
Wilcox makes a living out of laying the wood on opposing ball-carriers, and every once in a while it results in a big play for the Cowboys. In Sunday's win, JJ made a great play in coverage that forced a 49ers punt late in the game. Whaaaaaat?!
Coverage? JJ Wilcox? Seriously? Yes, it really happened. We're all equally flabbergasted, but we should be grateful. Wilcox has been the butt of many jokes for a few seasons now, and if he's playing at this level the Cowboys can really start cooking with gas.
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Terrance Williams Is Very Valuable Depth
While we're on the subject of players we pick on... Terrance Williams, ladies and gentlemen!
T-Will failed to get out of bounds late in the first half and we were all stunned. I mean... again? For real? IT'S NOT A COMPLICATED CONCEPT WE ALL CAN DO IT IN MADDEN.
Nevertheless, Terrance had himself a nice game overall. 4 catches, 44 yards, and a touchdown were very much-needed in San Francisco... especially in the absence of Dez Bryant. Cowboys Nation has been quick on the trigger to cut or trade Terrance, but consider the facts here. He's a fourth-year receiver who provides a serious amount of depth, and he proved that on Sunday. Epic.
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These Three Wins Will Matter So Much In December
I'm an admitted Taylor Swift fan, so let me take you back to December for a second. The Cowboys were, with only FOUR wins, miraculously still in the hunt for the NFC East late in 2015. It's amazing when you really think about it.
Imagine if at that time we had one or two more of these easy wins under our belt. Things could have been a whole hell of a lot different... despite the Trio of Excellence that was Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore.
Now I won't lie to you, the NFC East is far improved this year. Four wins likely isn't going to have you in contention in December, but these wins are so important. In the NFL you have to win the winnable games and stack them together. The Cowboys, and every NFL team, will lose games they should win. It will happen. Accept it now.
What makes those losses matter less is stacking up these easy wins. This is how you build a division-winning, and potentially more, type of season. You get wins however you have to. These past three weeks will be enormous when push comes to shove, and thankfully we'll be the ones doing the pushing and shoving.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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