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Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 14 Win Against Washington

The Dallas Cowboys took their fanbase through every emotion imaginable in the nation’s capital. In the end, they got their ninth victory in a year that looks like 10 will win the NFC East.

Still, this offense has to get their act together at some point. Sure, an NFC East crown and a playoff berth are fine accomplishments, but that’s far from where the goals should end. I know the Cowboys’ haters are rolling their eyes at that statement. Every year, it seems as if the weight of being the most iconic sports franchise in the world leads to people putting unrealistic expectations on a franchise whose reputation shines brighter than their current product.

However, this year is different. Dallas has one of the most explosive and balanced offenses in football, even if it hasn’t been on display in recent weeks. This defense has exceeded any logical football fan’s expectations by leaps and bounds. Even the special teams have turned around the early-season inconsistency to become solid across the board.

Let’s go over the biggest takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys win over the Washington Football Team in Week 14.

micah parsons dallas cowboys
Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 14 Win

The Good

Defensive linemen don’t disappoint in return

As excited as Dallas Cowboys fans were of seeing the return of Demarcus Lawrence a week ago and Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore this week, I’m not sure we could have predicted this. That front played outstanding all game long.

The pressure was coming from every which way, and this defensive line delivered time after time, even when the offense seemed like they could do nothing right. Dak Prescott threw a horrible pick, and Dorance Armstrong and Gregory countered with a spectacular play that ended with Gregory picking off a pass.

On fourth down, Micah Parsons comes up with a big sack-fumble, and Armstrong takes it to the house. Lawrence got a sack. Gallimore got a sack where he ran over center Ted Larsen to get to Taylor Heinicke. Hill forced a hold on a play that would have likely been another loss of yardage. And, of course, Gregory sealed the game with a sack-fumble. This defensive line is deep and healthy, and they are playing like a unit that can take over games.

Add on the five-man front that Dan Quinn displayed on nickel downs by walking Micah Parsons up, and I’m not sure how many offenses can handle this group without keeping players in to protect or loading up on blitz-beaters in their playbook.

Run defense unsung hero

If I haven’t given the front enough credit, let’s not forget about what they did to the focal point of Washington’s offense. During their four-game win streak before Sunday, Antonio Gibson had been finally finding his groove after a so-so start to the season. However, Dallas put an end to that. Gibson carried the ball 20 times in each of his two games against the Cowboys a year ago, rumbling for 243 yards and four scores while also catching five passes. On Sunday, he ran 10 times for 36 yards and caught two passes for five yards and a fumble.

This defensive front was active, and they were demanding double teams on the interior. Leighton Vander Esch, in particular, had several tackles where he was unblocked because of the job the man in front of him did.

There is no denying how good this run defense was on Sunday, and once again, the returning faces were a big part of it. If this defense can continue to make offenses one-dimensional, Dan Quinn can pin the ears back on this defense and let them come from every angle against the pass. That means more sacks and more gifted passes for this secondary to get their hands on. That will come in handy against the group of quarterbacks Dallas should see in the playoffs.

Takeaways keep coming

This might be the most refreshing takeaway I’ve mentioned all year, and by now, we know it’s not a fluke. This defense knows how to create turnovers. Some were more about mistakes on offense early in the year, and I wondered if we could sustain the success at taking the ball away.

However, Dan Quinn has these guys taking the football away from the other team. The strip-sacks and the punches for fumbles are starting to pile up, and this secondary continues to pick their spots to be aggressive.

The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFL with 19 interceptions and are second in total takeaways to only Indianapolis. In addition, Armstrong became the fifth defender to score a touchdown this season, and Dallas has now had 16 players score touchdowns this year to tie a franchise record. There were also plenty of turnover-worthy plays left on the field, including a pair of dropped interceptions by Anthony Brown. At the end of the day, this defense is not only holding their own. They are setting the offense up for success.

Offensive line depth on full display

This is a combination of something good and bad. You never want to see guys like Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins leave the game, and each did for various reasons on Sunday. Still, this unit showed their depth each time.

Connor Williams stepped in for Martin and played well in his absence. In fact, there are already talks that he may be stepping back into his old role at left guard moving forward. Terence Steele saw his first action since returning from the COVID list, and picked right up where he’d left off on the right side.

Ty Nsekhe also filled in admirably for Smith who re-aggravated the ankle injury that has nagged him for most of the year. I’m not going to make Washington’s defensive line out to be great considering the number of players they are missing. However, pressure was seldom an issue, and the run blocking actually took a step forward despite Washington having one of the top defensive tackle duos in football. Williams and Steele even jumped into some jumbo sets as well.

This offense still has a lot they need to figure out, but the offensive line played well on Sunday with eight different players taking snaps. That’s impressive.

dak prescott dallas cowboys
Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Bad

What’s wrong with Dak Prescott

I’m not sure if Dak Prescott’s calf is still an issue or possibly the shoulder that kept him out most of the preseason. Maybe missing the game against Minnesota messed up his rhythm, or defenses have just figured out how to full him pre-snap.

Heck, it could be all of the above. What I do know is he is not playing great football at this point. Don’t get me wrong, he still made some terrific throws on Sunday, but his consistency may be as bad as we’ve seen from Prescott as a professional. For too many snaps, he was a detriment to a winning effort on Sunday, and when Prescott has been at his best, the prior statement has been unfathomable. Not sure what needs to be done during the week of preparation to fix this, but Kellen Moore, Doug Nussmeier, and Prescott need to get together and figure it out.

He might even need to tone down the audible freedom he’s had pre-snap because we’ve seen too many instances of miscommunication between him and his receivers over the last five games.

Whatever the situation is, this team’s chances rest on it being fixed because this offense is too talented to be their own worst enemy. The interceptions were terrible, and Prescott is lucky there weren’t more. He’s also hesitating with his decisions at times. Prescott hesitated to make some throws and even hesitated to run. His final run to seal the win may have been the most confident decision he made all day. That’s the guy we need at quarterback.

Kellen Moore’s not helping enough?

I must say, Kellen Moore’s play-calling has been up and down during this rough stretch. There are too many moments of complacency, including on Dallas’ final few drives to seal the win. Now give credit where it’s due. The package with CeeDee Lamb in the backfield worked well, but why wasn’t it used a drive or two earlier.

I also had a problem with the first play in which Lamb was lined up in the backfield. I was intrigued when we saw him and Ezekiel Elliott lined up together next to Prescott. However, the shuffle pass to Elliott was baffling for one reason. It involved a fake-toss to Lamb. Why is a defense going to see out on that toss when Dallas has never run a toss to him in the first place? You don’t pull out a fake play when you’ve never actually successfully run the original design.

Also, I need more of the jumbo lines with six or seven offensive linemen on the field, but I’m not sure how effective they will be with guys like Blake Jarwin and Noah Brown on the shelf. My reasoning is that those are packages in which the defense suspects run. However, what makes that personnel so challenging is having Dalton Schultz, Jarwin, and Brown as eligible receivers. All three of those guys are capable of winning one-on-one in their routes, and it makes it difficult to sell out on the run completely. However, with what they bring as blockers, they help the cause when you hand it off. It’s not just the extra linemen that make those packages work.

The penalties must stop

It’s probably a disservice to think this is the first time I’ve mentioned penalties in my takeaways, considering the Dallas Cowboys sit one shy of Las Vegas for the league lead. Still, the silly ones have to go.

Everyone gets called for holding. Sometimes, defensive backs don’t turn their head, or an off-target throw puts them in a bad spot in coverage. Obviously, you can’t come close to a quarterback without risking a flag. However, having plays erased because of an illegal formation is ridiculous. There is a level of discipline it takes to win in the postseason, and with Dallas likely one win away, they need to turn their attention to cleaning up the miscues.

The Packers have committed 57 penalties. The Rams have been flagged 64 times. Tampa Bay is at 82, and Arizona is at 83. Dallas has been flagged 103 times for 911 yards. That’s 70 yards per game the Dallas Cowboys are losing. They had seven against Washington. Something has to change over the final month of the regular season.

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