The Dallas Cowboys were able to earn a needed win against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving day. Their second-half explosion required key performances from Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott to secure the victory.
At 5-5 and trailing the Washington Redskins entering their Week 12 matchup on Thanksgiving day, the Dallas Cowboys had to play with urgency. In a first-half that settled with a 10-7 score, the Cowboys appeared to be heading towards a typical Jason Garrett game. But Dallas’ playmakers emerged to break the tendencies of a normally benign offense.
On each of Dallas’ 21 points in the second-half, drives were determined because of unique talents. It was refreshing and important for this team to step-up in this moment. A loss would’ve given the Redskins a two-game lead and the head-to-head series win. Instead they’ll leave tied in the NFC East and one week until they host the New Orleans Saints.
In total, the Cowboys scored 31 points without the help of stalwart left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick. The Cowboys’ defense assisted with three interceptions of Colt McCoy, but it was the game-breaking touchdowns from quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper that was most unique to this game.
Prescott’s been mediocre at best since his breakout rookie campaign, and has been maligned as he’s failed to extend plays when his first instinct doesn’t go well, among other issues. But his improvisation and accuracy ruled the day, totaling 317 yards and three touchdowns on the day. His fourth-quarter touchdown scramble provided the boost that everyone has been begging to see from him on key plays.
Too often Prescott has been willing to take the short dump-off and accept the field goal opportunity or incoming punt team. His conservative nature often matches Garrett’s bland, predictable scheme, culminating in a problematic ecosystem for the offense. It showed even in the first-half, and it felt like another one of those letdowns for the Cowboys despite jumping out to a quick seven-point lead.
Cooper’s impact was stark as he cemented one of the better Thanksgiving performances in recent memory. His eight catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns may have saved the Cowboys’ season. His individual effort on each of his touchdowns was an example of why the team was willing to move their 2019 first-round pick for the playmaker.
The 40-yard touchdown was a product of a simple play design on third and two. Running a slant-flat action off the run-pass option, Cooper’s quick, choppy feet were able to get corner Quinton Dunbar on the ground as his feet were tangled.
With Washington selling out to stop the read option or inside zone, there was no one to help in the case of corner losing early in the route. The bold hedge failed to pay off as the Cowboys allowed Prescott to make the play.
Cooper’s ability to create on his own in this situation is why he was such a good fit for this team. There was too much pressure on Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott to carry a young and limited group of playmakers prior to his arrival. Now the ceiling of the unit has grown even if the staff is underperforming.
Later in the third quarter was his signature play as a Cowboy thus far. Aligned in the slot and running a post route into three defenders, Prescott delivers an aggressive and perfect throw for Cooper to haul in. And that’s where he makes magic despite the defenders closing in.
He quickly changed directions as if he were pivoting on a route, and erased the angle that Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix appeared to have around the 40-yard line. His pure speed propelled him to his 90-yard touchdown.
Most receivers don’t have the gall to try this maneuver with that sort of traffic around him. His creativity and athleticism gave a special performance in a moment that may define this team’s season.
The bad news is for Cowboys fans is that nothing changed from a process standpoint from the coaching staff. While timely plays from Noah Brown and Michael Gallup were encouraging on top of the other big moments, they were still on isolation routes that required the individual do the hard work instead of coaches making things easier on everyone. Their tendencies in the first-half continued as well, opting to plow into backup linemen against a quality defensive front seven instead of attacking a comparatively weak secondary.
Their competitiveness in the playoff race could keep Garrett’s seat cool as Jerry Jones continues to show faith in him. That’s a concern long-term considering Garrett’s unwillingness to evolve despite middling results. Rooting to lose isn’t fun but could be what helps this team clear house and aim for better than scraping by.
But for now, this is a team positioned to make a playoff run if they can survive a difficult three-game stretch. The mighty Saints loom, and then the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts follow suit. At least they may have the chance at two more reasonable wins against Tampa Bay and the New York Giants after that.
The NFC East race isn’t overly inspiring considering how well the conference is represented with talented teams but the futures of several head coaches could be on the line. Garrett’s job may be saved with a few more alpha performances by his playmakers just like they were Thursday night.