By Nick Shook
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The Dallas Cowboys (4-3) outlasted the Washington Redskins (3-4) in a rain-soaked NFC East battle that came down to field goals and who had more towels readily available. Here’s what we learned from the Cowboys‘ 33-19 win:
1. Was it raining down the entire East Coast of the United States on Sunday? It was pouring in Philadelphia during the Eagles‘ win over the 49ers, in New York during the Falcons‘ win over the Jets, and again in Landover. It made for a trio of soggy, mistake-filled games. Fumbles seemed only a moment away on almost every play, and for Washington, the wet conditions caused two of their own. Dallas turned those mistakes into six points, though it should have been more if an Ezekiel Elliotttouchdown wasn’t called back on a bogus holding call on Tyron Smith, who had his hands inside the frame of his opponent and drove him into the ground, but was flagged for it. Cousins tossed what looked like an interception twice on a late drive, but again thanks to the conditions, they ended up being incompletions. That wasn’t the case when the Redskins got the ball with less than a minute remaining and 88 yards to tie the game. That drive ended in a Byron Jones pick-six.
2. The Cowboys played about as sloppily and ineffectively as they could without being the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and yet, they entered halftime with a 14-13 lead. Sometimes, that’s the way things go in this weird-yet-amazing sport. Even on a drive that only covered 27 yards in eight plays, Dallas still managed to come away with three points early in the third. As the rain refused to relent in the second half, Dallas leaned on its ground game to burn plenty of clock, but repeatedly couldn’t turn drives into touchdowns, only field goals. That allowed Washington to remain in the game, but the competition ultimately became a battle of two sloppy teams playing in sloppy conditions, with the winner being just a little less sloppy.
3. Speaking of Elliott, all that talk about the running back looking slow and perhaps out of shape (I was admittedly very vocal on this) can be tossed aside. Zeke is in shape and running as well as ever, totaling 150 yards and two touchdowns (should have been three) on 33 carries. Every time Elliott touched the ball, it was realistic to think a big play was coming. That wasn’t true earlier in the season for Dallas, and it’s incredibly encouraging for the Cowboys as they hit the second half of the season (as long as he’s available to play).
4. The injuries are piling up for Washington, and it started to show on Sunday. Niles Paul suffered a concussion and Jordan Reed left with a hamstring injury, shrinking Washington’s possible personnel packages and formations down to one tight end sets at the most. Undrafted free agent Tyler Catalina (who had a nice run block in the first half) was smoked by Demarcus Lawrence for a sack as part of a sequence of plays that saw Cousins heavily pressured on every down. T.J. Clemmings was tossed to the ground (and injured his ankle in the process) and allowed another hit on Cousins on a pass he threw for a touchdown. As a team, Dallas notched four sacks, and had many more near-sacks go unrecorded. What was once considered a massive liability for the Cowboys turned into a strength in the win. On the other side of the ball, coach Jay Gruden announced after the game defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis fractured his hand. Ioannidis isn’t a household name, but has played a big part in Washington’s front four. His absence was evident in how effectively Dallas ran the ball, especially in the second half, and his loss is larger than one would expect.
5. Yes, it was raining, but that’s no excuse for the continued absence of Washington’s receiving corps. For yet another week, Terrelle Pryor was nowhere to be found, catching his lone target out of bounds. Josh Doctson dropped a big pass (though he did catch a touchdown with 4:35 left in the game after a gift of a pass interference penalty). The losses of Reed and Paul took away the tight end threat. Chris Thompson led the team in receiving with eight catches for 76 yards. By the latter half of the fourth, Cousins was struggling to hit open targets in the conditions. Their lack of production throughout the season was only intensified when they needed to throw the ball the most.
6. The lone bright spot for Washington offensively was a moderate return to relevance for Jamison Crowder, who caught nine passes for 123 yards in the loss, both single-game highs for Crowder this season. He was kept out of the end zone again, but if Washington has any hopes of being an offense that can do more than throw passes to Thompson out of the backfield and to Reed (who didn’t return to the game), he must be involved moving forward.