When your starting quarterback wants the ball in his hands, there isn’t much a coach can do about it. Such is exactly what Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott wanted in his team’s week 17 game at the Giants, which carried no meaning for the Cowboys as winners of the NFC East. By the end of the early afternoon, the game stood as one the Cowboys should feel great about before the playoffs, with Prescott delivering a game-winning touchdown pass to Cole Beasley and two-point conversion to Michael Gallup for a 36-35 victory.
The next time we break down a Cowboys game, it will be their third meeting with the Seahawks in two years, with Seattle traveling to AT&T Stadium for the Wild Card round. Before that however, there’s plenty to discern from the Cowboys performance against an even more familiar opponent, finishing the year 5-1 against their division by sweeping the Giants.
- Rightfully so, Dak Prescott will say this season comes down to what the Cowboys do in the playoffs, but putting up 387 yards and four touchdowns without Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Right Guard Zack Martin, or Running Back Ezekiel Elliott is a personal achievement worthy of praise.
A year ago, this task proved impossible, though Prescott did keep the Cowboys in the playoff picture with a 9-7 record. Getting to ten wins took one of Prescott’s best games, throwing with rare anticipation and poise.
Nine different receivers caught a pass from Prescott, as the Cowboys welcomed Tavon Austin back into the fold. In consecutive weeks, the Cowboys have taken strides to put a shutout loss in week 15 behind them, clicking as a unit before the postseason begins.
Prescott’s sequence before throwing the winning touchdown to Beasley felt like the perfect microcosm of his career through three years – two of which have ended with the Cowboys as division champions. Missing Amari Cooper on first down, Dak delivered high on second down and was forced to throw the ball away under pressure on third.
A fourth-and-ten false start penalty on backup Left Tackle Cam Fleming pushed the Cowboys back five yards, but none of this mattered when Prescott dropped Beasley’s sixth catch of the game into the back of the end zone. Getting a knee down, Beasley scored for the first time since week six.
Keeping him involved in the offense is just one more way the Cowboys open up their offense to play their best football over the next month.
- The story of this game cannot be told without mention of Blake Jarwin’s career day, showing off great route running ability on three touchdowns.
Jarwin has always been a big-bodied TE capable of boxing out defenders, but I thought he flashed a precision in running vertical routes that hasn’t been seen before. Playing with a loose upper body and light feet, Jarwin explodes up the field and creates mismatches that either free himself (as it did on Sunday) or teammates underneath.
Between Jarwin and rookie Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys have a tight end by committee approach that is comforting for Prescott, as Schultz has found a role in both the running and play action game. Third Tight End Rico Gathers played six snaps on offense for the Cowboys.
- Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch struggled more than usual at times in this game, but his play chasing down Evan Engram on the sideline was one of the best of the day for the Cowboys defense.
Vander Esch had to cover a lot of ground from the middle of the field to turn and chase Engram, in full stride looking for the end zone. Vander Esch got there along with Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie to prevent a touchdown.
The Giants would end up scoring, but by no fault from Vander Esch, who finds at least one play a game to show up the incredible athleticism and instincts that have made his transition to the NFL easier than ever expected. Even without looking as sharp as usual, the Cowboys defense as a whole was better with Vander Esch than it was with Sean Lee again – which tells Dallas all they need to know about the decision made at LB.
- With the Cowboys using their starters in hopes of gaining momentum for the playoffs, nobody needed a play more than Chidobe Awuzie – intercepting Eli Manning in the end zone.
Awuzie has been caught out of position almost all season, but his size and willing tackling ability on the outside make him an irreplaceable starter for Kris Richard’s secondary. Reading the eyes of Manning, Awuzie was able to gain proper depth and make a strong play on the ball.
Not only did Awuzie finish a play when given the chance, but he did so on a part of the field the Cowboys have been terrific at defending, adding to their red zone numbers with the takeaway.
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The Cowboys finished 2018 in a big way, winning on the road with an offensive performance that did enough despite a turnover, missed field goal, and several dropped passes. Leaving room to improve for the playoffs while finding a way to come out on top at the Giants is the way things will have to continue for the Cowboys on a short week.
Also winners of their last two games, the Seahawks come to town having a previous win over the Cowboys from week three on Saturday night.