The Dallas Cowboys went in to Washington losers of their last three road games this season, in position to change that behind Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott‘s previously undefeated record against the Redskins. In the end, the ball was ultimately taken out of their hands as the Cowboys played for overtime, watching their effort come up short again with Brett Maher’s miss from 52-yards out.
As was the case two weeks ago in Houston, the Cowboys multitude of errors have been focused into one play, with L.P. Ladouceur becoming the scapegoat for his penalty that pushed back the Cowboys final field goal attempt. With an unmanageable 14 days before their next game, the real issues inside this Cowboys team have plenty of time to surface, as enough were on display Sunday for Dallas to miss out on another shot at the division lead.
Here’s a look at my initial notes from this Cowboys loss, sending them into their bye week at 3-4 and 1-1 in the NFC East.
- This was yet another game where the Cowboys dealt with the ups and downs of rookie Left Guard Connor Williams.
On the same drive that Prescott left the field to be checked in the medical tent following a big hit out of bounds, Michael Gallup was able to provide a spark with a 22-yard gain on a perfect strike from Dak.
Williams helped make the play possible by holding off a bull rush from Daron Payne. The Redskins feature both Payne and his former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen at defensive tackle. They ensured the Cowboys would get nothing going on the ground in this game.
Five plays later, Williams would be called for a chop block that put Dallas behind the chains. The drive stalled and the Cowboys punted, which was a much better result compared to Prescott’s attempt at overcoming Williams’ holding penalty in the fourth quarter.
Erasing a first down to Cole Beasley, Prescott ran into pressure in his own end zone on third and long, inexcusably fumbling the ball for an easy Redskins recovery and touchdown.
Y’all are really going to make me do this… okay. Here we go. https://t.co/awNm55TxnH
- Michael Gallup finally scored his first career touchdown, and has to be asking himself if they can really be so easy, as he ran wide open down the left sideline to score from 49-yards out.
Gallup sold his route brilliantly, getting his defender to bite hard on the stop route before releasing over the top. Even with some pressure in his face, Prescott delivered a perfect pass that allowed Gallup to walk in.
I truly love me some @michael13gallup. https://t.co/KEjh9BDUPS
Give credit to the receivers around Gallup for setting up this play. Allen Hurns caught five passes, his most in a game for the Cowboys, many of them coming on the same route that Gallup faked before running vertical.
The Cowboys have deserved criticism for their lack of route designs on the outside, but when they execute well enough to win as they did here, it’s easier to see the trust that remains in this team for Scott Linehan as their play caller.
It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see Prescott throw at least two more passes down the stretch. Beasley was having his way with a depleted Washington secondary, and with a timeout in their pocket the Cowboys could have worked the middle of the field to attempt a winning touchdown.
Instead, their tying field goal attempt left them with plenty to think about over the bye, including if the kick would have been good from 47-yards out.
- The Cowboys red zone defense stood tall once again, keeping the Redskins out of the end zone both times, including at the start of the third quarter thanks to a DeMarcus Lawrence stop on Adrian Peterson.
There were plenty of plays in this game where the Cowboys made Peterson look a few years younger, but the timeliness of DeMarcus Lawrence’s splash plays against the run were all they needed to get the Redskins off the field in big spots.
It’s not often we talk about a defensive end being clutch, but that’s exactly the type of player the Cowboys have in their franchise left end.
Instead of going up 14-7 and forcing a Cowboys three-and-out on the next series, the Redskins 10-7 advantage would stand through the third quarter. These three points came on a 21-yard Hopkins field goal, set up by Lawrence screaming off the edge on third and a yard to plant Peterson for a loss of two.
- This play may get lost in the shuffle when breaking down the Cowboys miscues for a whole extra week, but one that will stick with me for a while is Prescott’s missed swing pass to Elliott.
As Tony Romo was keen to point out on the call of this game, Prescott left plenty of throws on the field, including one to Gallup on his decisive fumble. Where most of these missed chances were passes Prescott didn’t pull the trigger on, the one he did against the blitz that resulted in an incomplete pass to Elliott was stunning.
How does this happen? Seriously. How? HOWWWWW?!?! https://t.co/40V9Jx5EEP
The Redskins had scored their first touchdown of this game by throwing to their running back against the blitz, and the Cowboys could have been set up to do the same if Elliott catches this ball on first down.
The clock was a factor at this point, as the Cowboys took another 20 seconds to score on a third down rush by Prescott. The Redskins failed to take much time off the clock on their next series, with Alex Smith going out of bounds on third down.
The Cowboys’ final drive began with 1:09 remaining, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how the game would have ended if they had just a few more seconds to manage.
- The Cowboys were without Tavon Austin, taking away their outside threat in the running game, and turned to Cornerback Jourdan Lewis to handle their only jet sweep of the game.
The Cowboys knew Lewis better than most teams in the 2017 Draft, the cornerback out of Michigan that never carried the ball in college. The Cowboys had a few options in replacing Austin if they wanted his speed threat to remain in the game, instead doing away with most of these plays.
Instead of Deonte Thompson, Rod Smith, or even Beasley handling this role, the Cowboys ran one jet sweep to Lewis for seven yards.
So I’d wondered if we might see Zeke as the jet motion/sweep guy with Rod Smith at RB sometime. But CB Jourdan Lewis? Interesting. Creative. I like it. https://t.co/KC3pZL1glI
Lewis has been getting more involved in Kris Richard’s defense, and it was certainly different to see him used on offense for the first time.
- The Cowboys welcomed back Sean Lee in this game and proceeded to allow over 100 rushing yards for the first time since week three – Lee’s last game prior to Sunday.
In no way are the Cowboys a better defense without Lee, but they would be wise to spend a significant portion of time over the bye week figuring out their linebacker rotation with Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch.
Vander Esch was the Cowboys leading tackler coming into this game, and a huge reason why this defense held the Lions, Texans, and Jaguars in check without Lee. Playing 21 snaps against the Redskins to Lee’s 38, there were snaps where LVE was noticeably missing.
The Cowboys have allowed at least 100 yards on the ground 72 times since Lee’s arrival in 2010, playing to a 23-49 record in these games. In the 63 games they’ve held teams under 100 rushing yards, the Cowboys are 48-15.
This makes getting to the bottom of how Adrian Peterson was able to go for 99 yards at 4.1 yards per carry a key for this Cowboys defense by week eight – where they’ll attempt to keep an offense that can hopefully find answers of their own in yet another game, this time on Monday Night Football against the Titans.
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The feeling that the Cowboys have already missed on enough opportunities to contend in the NFC East this year will be hard to shake as the Cowboys return to Dallas on Tuesday at 3-4. This won’t stop these players and coaches from doing everything they can to get back to .500 and remain in the hunt at 4-4.
In a league where fortune favors the bold to go above eight wins, the Cowboys will have to wait even longer than their 14 days between games to prove they’re not another 8-8 Jason Garrett team. With poor coaching decisions and a quarterback incapable of overcoming them, the Cowboys remain in the midst of an identity crisis at week eight, thanks in large part to the left upright at FedEx Field.