The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up their 12-day, three-game stretch with a 1-2 record after a 27-17 win over the New Orleans Saints. Despite an underwhelming showing in several areas, Dallas was able to grab a little momentum despite the absence of Mike McCarthy, among others, who were out with COVID-19.
Dan Quinn stepped in to do an admirable job without the defense being affected, and the win provided a much-needed boost, as the Cowboys now prepare for a three-game stint with NFC East opponents. More importantly, it appears Dallas came out of this game relatively healthy, which hasn’t always been the case over the last month and a half.
Let’s take a look at the good and bad from the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 13 win over the Saints.
Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 13 Win
Bounce back game for the secondary
It’s been a rollercoaster year for the secondary, but Thursday was one of their peaks. To be fair, Taysom Hill looked horrible throwing the football, even before the finger injury. He managed to complete just three of his 14 passes from 10+ yards downfield, with three interceptions in those instances. In addition, a Saints’ offense without Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara isn’t scaring any secondary.
However, the corners and safeties did what you expect them to do in an instance like this. Jayron Kearse was able to have an impact against the run, with two stops in the backfield. He also came up with one of the top interceptions of the year.
Trevon Diggs played as well as we’ve seen in several weeks, as he was routinely getting his eyes on the ball and breaking on passes. Diggs would have had more than one interception if Hill had been more accurate. Brown knocked down several passes, and Damontae Kazee had one of his best performances of the season too. I’m not going to sell Cowboys fans a bridge on how this group has turned the corner.
Outside of Diggs, it’s an underwhelming bunch that has been inconsistent for most of their careers. Still, with our pass-rush getting healthy, this bunch is more than capable of continuing to be at the top of the league in interceptions, as well as top-10 in passes defended.
Good to see Tank on the field
It certainly was nice to see the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive leader back on the gridiron. Demarcus Lawrence brings energy as both a run defender and pass rusher, and we saw a bit of both against New Orleans. He flushed Hill out of the pocket, tipped a pair of passes and assisted Kearse on a tackle for loss as well. Lawrence is just a versatile player and as he continues to build his endurance back up, we should see him become even more of a difference-maker.
What has me excited is the opportunity to see this nickel defense finally at full strength. In obvious-passing situations, the foursome of Tank, Gregory, Gallimore and Osa Odighizwa could be a very disruptive.
Add in the occasional opportunity to kick Lawrence inside on that unit and rush Micah Parsons off the edge, and this group gets even more dangerous. Dorance Armstrong is having his best season and Tarell Basham has had his moments. Still, Lawrence is the straw that stirs the drink for that front. It was great to see him back on the field.
Parsons continues to be a game-changer
There’s not much I haven’t lauded Micah Parsons for at this point. He has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and the strength to bring the play to an end when he gets there. The rookie has also been sensational rushing the passer, whether coming off the edge or up the middle. With ten sacks, he’s within striking distance of Javon Kearse’s rookie record of 14.5.
Still, the best thing I can say about him is that he has developed a knack for shining in the big moments. I believe he is firmly in the conversation with Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt, and maybe even his teammate, Diggs, for Defensive player of the Year. However, what will put him over the top is his ability to make game-changing plays when they matter most. Say what you want about the fourth-quarter interceptions, but his sack on the first play of the final quarter was possibly the biggest play of the night.
It was a 10-point game. New Orleans was in field-goal range. Then, the combination of his discipline, instincts, and athleticism put an end to the drive. If Dallas’ offense good have mustered any kind of success in the run game, that would have likely been the beginning of the end. Instead, the offense struggled to pick up first downs, and the interceptions helped save the day. Still, it’s hard not to credit that sack as the first confidence-breaking shot of the night for the Saints.
Those are the kind of blows that the Defensive Player of the Year must land, and it’s not the first time Parsons has done it this season. Even when Dallas hasn’t capitalized, he’s made momentum-shifting plays for this team.
Pollard primed to spell Zeke if necessary
The narrative of resting Ezekiel Elliott is starting to ramp up among Cowboys fans, and Dallas would be fools not to consider it. On Thursday, there were several runs where you could tell he’s not healthy. What makes this a feasible option is the success of Tony Pollard. He’s already set a career-high with 602 rushing yards, and he looks like the more explosive runner at this point.
Yes, Elliott has looked explosive when healthy, but I’m not sure he will ever be able to match Pollard’s big-play speed at this point moving forward in his career. However, the concern is whether or not you want to lose Elliott’s ability in pass-protection in order to help him get healthy.
That is where the Dallas Cowboys need to challenge Pollard if this is going to happen. He’s more than capable of stepping in for Elliott as a runner and receiver for a week or two. Still, can he be a reliable player in pass protection, both with his technique and awareness? That’s a big question because this offensive line has given up seven sacks in the last three weeks and plenty of pressure. I’m a little disappointed that this decision wasn’t made following the Thanksgiving Game against Las Vegas. To give Elliott 17 days of rest to be ready for the three-game stretch against NFC East opponents would have been huge.
Now, they are banking on 10 days of rest doing the job, or possibly more if they sit him against Washington next Sunday. However, the time for conversation of resting Elliott can’t wait.
Offensive rhythm looks off
Outside of a blowout against Atlanta, the last month and few days have not been inspiring for this offense. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of shuffling. Dak Prescott missed the final game of October, followed by constant shuffling on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Throw in McCarthy and Joe Philbin missing time over the last several weeks because of COVID-19, and the result has been a dry spell for one of the most explosive and balanced offenses in the league.
It starts with execution. I have praised Kellen Moore for his creativity with the packages, personnel and play design throughout the year. If there is one area I think he needs to make an adjustment, it’s running the football more to the edge.
We’ve seen several instances this year of Dallas having little-to-no luck running it up the middle, but that doesn’t mean the run game can’t succeed. Tony Pollard had several big runs on toss plays to the perimeter, including the 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter. We need to see more of it. The same run-stuffers that clog up the middle aren’t always the best at pursuing down the line of scrimmage, and it’s time Dallas start testing them more.
In addition, the offensive line hasn’t always been on the same page. We’ve seen players go unblocked or miscommunications on double-teams. The shifting at tackle and Connor McGovern’s insertion into the starting lineup was sure to impact the chemistry, but this group needs to turn the corner.
Finally, Prescott and the receivers need to get on the same page. Although they weren’t on Thursday, drops have been an issue. Prescott’s accuracy has been hot and cold. There are even plays where receivers haven’t run the route Prescott was expecting. This all needs to get fixed quickly.