A week after passing their first NFC East test with a 20 point win over the Eagles, the Cowboys matched up with one of the league's remaining unbeaten teams Sunday and earned the same result – a commanding 36-28 win over the Carolina Panthers.
This final score doesn't tell the whole story of how well the Cowboys controlled the game on the ground, opening up big plays for Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson in the passing game. They also forced Sam Darnold into two interceptions, both to Trevon Diggs as he kept his streak of a pick in each game this season alive, thanks in large part to their pass rush.
Before the Cowboys prepare for another NFC East opponent with the Giants coming to town next week, here are my other takeaways from the win.
Dan Quinn continued to find success with three safeties on the field. The Cowboys went to this Big Nickel look on Carolina's first drive of the game. Damontae Kazee stuck with Tommy Tremble in coverage, and Anthony Brown was able to undercut a route with help from Jayron Kearse over the top. Randy Gregory sacked Darnold on the following play to force a punt.
The Cowboys have talked about their unselfishness on offense, as well as Dak Prescott's full command of Kellen Moore's scheme. A great example of this came on Dallas' first scoring drive. On second and goal, Prescott audibled to a pass formation that called for Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, and Jeremy Sprinkle to be his only receivers. Though the play resulted in an incompletion for Schultz, the Cowboys lined up with Connor McGovern at fullback one snap later and ran Ezekiel Elliott for six.
Rookie defensive end Chauncey Golston may have made his NFL debut against a mobile QB last week with Jalen Hurts, but he was put in a tough spot on the first of two Sam Darnold rushing scores. Golston was the read man for Darnold to pitch the ball wide or keep it, which he did once Golston lost contain to allow a walk-in touchdown.
The Cowboys' offensive line was ready for any run call that Moore wanted in this game, playing like the unit that was considered the league's best in years past. Elliott and Tony Pollard ran well out of both power and spread formations. On the drive that ended in Blake Jarwin's touchdown, the Cowboys ran Pollard behind a pulling Terrence Steele at right tackle. With how well Zack Martin and Connor Williams were handling the Panthers front to that point, it was a questionable call. Prescott would make up for it by converting fourth down with his legs before hitting Jarwin on what FOX analyst Greg Olsen called “Y Option”, a staple for the Cowboys offense with Jason Witten, for six.
The Panthers took the lead on the next drive when Darnold scored from 11 yards out, converting a pair of third and long situations on the drive. Mike McCarthy could have backed the Panthers into second and long after a penalty, instead of giving his defense one third-and-12 that Robby Anderson picked up. The backbreaking play was a third-and-11 scramble from Darnold that safety Malik Hooker could have made a play on. Hooker came down to cover a crossing route that Dallas already had played well, vacating the middle of the field for Darnold to easily move the chains.
Treating a missed field goal as a turnover is what great offenses do to put games away, and the Cowboys did just that by calling a shot play to Amari Cooper after the Panthers missed from 54 yards out. After three runs to Elliott, the Cowboys caught Carolina in man coverage with Prescott delivering a perfect ball that only Cooper could catch in bounds at the far pylon. This quick score was a turning point in the game, as the Cowboys scored through the air their next two possessions following a three-and-out and Diggs interception.
On the three-and-out, the Cowboys forced following Cooper's touchdown, Golston and fellow rookie 3T Osa Odighizuwa combined for a third-down sack. There were multiple plays that highlighted another strong game for Odighizuwa, but this was his best of the day. Osa was knocked down on the play but still recovered and closed on Darnold while Micah Parsons pressured the A-gap. There aren't many DTs that play with the type of effort and hustle that Odighizuwa has shown, and the Cowboys' front seven as a whole has benefited from it.
The Cowboys will welcome the Giants to AT&T Stadium off of their first win, surviving in overtime at the Saints on Sunday. While the Panthers used yesterday's game as a measuring stick on their three prior wins over the Texans, Jets, and Saints, the Giants will be doing the same to see where they stand in the NFC East.
This will also be Prescott's first game against the Giants since his injury, one the Cowboys held on to win with Andy Dalton. Prescott has not lost to the Giants since his rookie season of 2016. A win would put distance between Dallas at 3-1 and New York at 1-3. Washington Football Team won at Atlanta on Sunday, holding second place in the division at 2-2.