It wasn’t pretty, but the Dallas Cowboys moved to 5-1 with a 35-29 overtime victory over the New England Patriots. Yet again, the Cowboys stumbled out to a poor start, led by several questionable decisions by the coaches and calls by the referees. However, the final narrative continues to be the same. This offense consistently moved the ball while the defense came up with timely big plays. Most importantly, America’s Team got the win.
Dallas will now enter their bye week riding a five-game winning streak with a three-game lead in the NFC East. The Cowboys are also 2-0 in the division, which puts them well on their way to earning any possible tiebreaker as well.
It’s an excellent place to be heading into the week off, and the best news may be that reinforcements are on the way. La’el Collins’ suspension is up, and he will slide back into the right tackle position where Terence Steele filled in admirably. Michael Gallup, Kelvin Joseph, and Sean McKeon are also likely to return coming out of the bye week. Joseph and McKeon are designated to return, which means the clock is ticking on whether to activate them or return them to IR for at least three more weeks.
Let’s take a look at the good and the bad from Dallas’s big win.
Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 6 Win
Survived the Belichick Brilliance
There was no doubt Bill Belichick would have a trick or two up his sleeve, and it didn’t take long for them to show up on Sunday. Since the season-opener, teams have been more willing to dare the Dallas Cowboys run game to beat them than allowing Dak Prescott and the passing attack to wreak havoc by sliding a safety into the box. In fact, while the running game had been dominating defenses over the past four games, the wide receivers on this team had been mostly quiet, putting up 13, 9, 7, and 11 catches in those contests.
Belichick changed that up by stacking the box and challenging his corners to match up with the Cowboys’ perimeter players. However, Dallas’ wide receivers made them pay with 20 catches for 293 yards, the most since they put up 37/303 against Tampa Bay.
On the defensive side, Belichick attacked the middle of the field early and often, specifically targeting the Cowboys’ safeties and linebackers in coverage. It was a sound strategy, but the defense made the adjustments needed.
It also helped that New England’s offense was on the sideline far more often than their defense. The Dallas Cowboys ran 82 plays to the Patriots’ 50 and won the time of possession by over 12 minutes. That’s the kind of ball-control dominance that can make an opposing game plan irrelevant.
Offense keeps rolling
As I mentioned above, this offense dominated the time of possession. Despite the Patriots having the ball for two more offensive possessions, Dallas also tallied 32 first downs to New England’s 17.
Against this pick-your-poison offense, the Patriots gambled that their corners could hold up against the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Cedrick Wilson. However, we know how that turned out.
I will say that this running game didn’t just lay down despite having the extra man in the box. Rushing for 110 yards on 27 carries may not be the production Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have grown accustomed to over the last month. Still, it’s more than enough to force the defense to honor the run throughout the contest. At no point could the Patriots pin their ears back and rush the passer, and Elliott and Pollard had a lot to do with that.
Oh, and did I mention that the 445 passing yards Dak Prescott put up are the most ever against the Patriots with Belichick running the show. Think about all those matchups with five-time MVP Peyton Manning. Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing twice over the last seven years and has played the Patriots 13 times. Even recent stars like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson haven’t put up that kind of game. That’s an impressive feat by Prescott and this offense.
Randy Gregory is on fire
To put it simply, Randy Gregory is playing out of his mind right now. His two-sack performance against New England is the second time he’s had multiple sacks in the last three games. Even when he’s not bringing down the passer, he is getting pressure and drawing penalties.
Anyone that’s seen Gregory play during his career knows he’s always been capable of this. However, the numerous suspensions have kept him from ever reaching his potential. Now, we’ve seen it. He’s winning the edge against inferior athletes, and he’s bullying others by converting speed to power. Gregory’s length is also giving his opponents tons of issues. His strip-sack on Mac Jones single-handedly changed the game’s momentum early when Dallas couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot. The second one on the opening drive of the first half forced a punt, and Dallas took their first lead on the ensuing possession.
Those are game-changing plays. That’s what the Dallas Cowboys have always needed him to be, a game-changer. Trevon Diggs’ pick-six may have been the biggest defensive play of the night, and he’s near the top of everyone’s early Defensive Player of the Year rankings. However, Gregory was the best defender on the field Sunday.
Too many miscues
A five-game winning streak is an impressive path to be on, but the Dallas Cowboys have another trend that’s been extremely frustrating. The early mistakes that have led to slow starts have now moved from being a coincidence to being part of this team’s identity.
This must be alarming for everyone in the organization. Turnovers and dropped passes in the end zone have been the biggest culprit over the last several weeks, and on Sunday, 12 penalties for 115 yards compounded the matter. Yes, a few of those holding penalties were poor calls, but it’s hard to look at 12 accepted infractions and blame the refs. However, the most frustrating part is that so many of these blunders are coming early.
Players should never be more focused on the task at hand than in the early portion of the game. I’m not sure whether it’s nerves or being overly excited, or even just being complacent. Whatever it is, it needs to be at the top of the agenda during the bye week. We can’t have back-to-back plays on the opening drive where one of the top rushing offenses in the league gets stuffed, and it certainly can’t happen four straight times on the one-yard line. Yes, the defensive back made a great play to take away a touchdown pass, but Cedrick Wilson has to hold on to that ball.
After having several weeks of less-than-stellar opponents, the Minnesota Vikings are waiting on the other side of this bye week. They are one of the few offenses in this league that can play with the kind of balance Dallas does on offense, and a bad start against them is likely to result in a loss.
Perhaps the criticism of Mike McCarthy is impacted by the success of Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn. Both are putting themselves in position to be head coaching candidates this coming offseason, and that may amplify McCarthy’s mistakes. However, what frustrates me is the lack of consistency. If you go for it on fourth and short on your end of the field, why don’t you do the same when facing a long field goal attempt.
I’m not sure why McCarthy chose to go for it on fourth and short on the opening drive against an opponent that’s not that great on offense. He’s punted that ball in the past. Why give them the chance to gain rhythm and momentum? You’re practically handing them points if you don’t get it. Late in the first half, why aren’t we using our timeouts, and if you’re going to, why wait so long? It just seems like there are times where McCarthy is caught off guard with scenarios and decides to pull a decision out of thin air. You have to be prepared for multiple outcomes play after play.
You also have to have a standard of when to be aggressive and when to play it safe. Yes, that standard can fluctuate based on the score and circumstance, but there still must be a line drawn or some form of consistency. We are not seeing that from Mike McCarthy.