Cowboys Course Correct With The Lions Tamed To Good Effect

The Dallas Cowboys were in familiar territory. They were in the midst of trying to overcome their latest round of self-destructive mistakes. They aimed to sprinkle “new wrinkles” to change their on-again, off-again story. They had to find a more consistent way to shift their play calls and execution into gear, closer to the accelerator and further from the brakes.

While the Cowboys might have become conflicted as to whether their solution was akin to rocket science or physics, they knew one of the best ways to silence their critics and their (sometimes carefully) deconstructed analytics was to go back to basics. They had to do what they did best in the past and, most importantly, tack on a sincere second effort to make it last.

“What about key missing personnel? Well? How can they go back to their meat and potatoes when new, struggling players are being picked over by crows?” you ask. That question is perpetually hard to ignore, but the answer still lives in the simplicity Jason Garrett and his coaching staff must practice, preach, and implore.

The Host With The Most

When “America’s Team” last hosted Detroit, they played it close for a half. The Lions lost their roar and could not manage another score. The “Pontiac Pussycats” fell flat with Dallas thoroughly enjoying a 42-21 laugh. This time around there was no “Puntisher” sighting to make it more exciting, but the point difference would significantly diminish, and it was a fight to the finish.

As with every game, there were a handful of individual and collective performances that were near-difference makers and true game-breakers.

On first and ten from the Detroit 25, Kerryon “Not Carry On Or Carrion” Johnson exploded through the tackles and wove his way down the left side of the field for 32 yards before he would yield. After nearly giving Cowboys Nation a stroke, “Marinelli’s Men” would go onto ensure the Lions’ running game (save for no more than one score) went up in smoke.

While the Dallas defense maintained a pretty good handle on the Lions’ ground game, Golden “Keep Your Head On A Swivel” Tate was his usual talented, taunting self who almost single-handedly put Kris Richard’s secondary on the shelf. Kenny Golladay may be on as Detroit’s vinyl-upholstered version of Megatron, but (if given half a chance to dance by a cornerback with a dismissive stance) that dude has the requisite long stride and good enough hands for a dangerous downfield glide.

After a bit of a slow start against a Detroit defensive line showing some early game heart, Ezekiel Elliott began to deftly dart. He was here, there, and everywhere with an MVP-like 240 total yards (152 rushing and 88 receiving), eventually making Matt Patricia’s defense resemble a house of cards.

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Dak was able to more than make do right on cue. He had the Cowboys “slingin’ it around” to go with Zeke’s success on the ground. Linehan’s Clan went heavy on the play action to gain passing game traction. It seemed pretty clear that Dak’s 31-yard connection with Swaim was the longest pass to a Dallas tight end all year. Prescott would also locate rookie Michael “Get On That Horse And” Gallup and Zeke for 37 and 38-yard strikes, respectively but not consecutively. Cole Beasley continued doing the dirty work with his ankle-breaking route-running, though an uptick in game day punishment may make his continued availability increasingly stunning.

Elliott – as if with an all-day pledge – would find daylight between the tackles and at the edge. With 1:50 left in the second quarter, Dak hit Zeke on a “Linehan Special” screen, with part of “The Great Wall Of Dallas” (Looney, Martin, and Williams) leading the way and lookin’ mean. Zeke (from 38 yards out) would practically cruise to the end zone before slipping past a defender’s attempted T-bone.

Zeke showed nice patience on another drive with 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and – once out of the blocks – he practically skipped through a tackle and zipped down the sideline until deploying a Walter Payton high step and stiff-arm combination that set off Cowboys Nation.

When the Cowboys were practically on the Detroit one – with three minutes to go in the third – they simply had to get it done. A fortuitous Zeke fumble on the previous play would bounce the right way to land in Blake Jarwin’s hands. The football was returned to the spot of the bumble, preventing irritable fans from starting to mumble. Nonetheless, Dak would fake to Elliott and (with a defender heading in his direction) throw off his back foot to a wide open Swaim for some first-career-touchdown fame.

Secondary stud Chidobe Awuzie played tight coverage against practically every receiver he faced . . . ensuring that most successful passes by Matthew Stafford (of which there were many) had to be cleanly placed. Marinelli’s Men had the audacity and the capacity to eventually halt Stafford’s impressive accuracy. DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence continued to come up large – treading thrice over Stafford – leading the snack, err, sack time charge.

Brett Maher would continue to make up for bumping Dan Bailey from his roster spot (with four more field goals and two extra points), making the best of every shot.

Maher would help the Cowboys remain the host with the most, as they tamed the Lions on a last-second score, 26-24. Dallas displayed a long-dormant offensive balance, finally gave Zeke a significant passing-game chance, and left Cowboys Nation hankerin’ for more.

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Happy, Not Crappy

“The Tortured Cowboys Fan” is fond of pointing out one particular pro sports philosophy that (without fail) transforms into a late-season prophecy. It is not whether you win or lose but how you win or lose, and that is the ongoing poison from which you (the game day participant) must choose. People (from team owner to head coach to practice squad player in search of a game day prayer) often attempt to boorishly dodge the quality level of a victory by saying “A win is a win in this league,” or “It is hard to win in the NFL (and then conveniently complain about “no respect” fatigue).”

“It is hard enough to win in the NFL without beating yourself” is perhaps the most appropriate theme for a Dallas team and fans who want to feel happy about a victory while remaining wary of the unforeseen injury or avoidable mental mistake that can leave everyone feeling crappy.

One game at a time, Cowboys Nation. The Cowboys need to prove that their coaches (so creatively-inspired) and their available athletes (so execution-wired) can steadily stack victories (rather than losses plagued by a million messy inconsistencies) to avoid another premature, season-ending vacation.

Short Shots And Hot Spots

“He’s a damn good football player. He handles success. He handles adversity as well as anyone I’ve been around at that position. He’s a great leader. He never blinks. He just goes out and plays. I think if you look at his performance today, it’s the way we want our quarterbacks to play.” – Captain Clappin’ on Dak Prescott, as if auditioning for a college football television spot.

Yes, aside from the mild haze of another couple minus plays (and receiver drops that resulting in avoidable stops), Dak did very well. It is, however, but one contest (from a painfully inconsistent 12-game path) upon which Cowboys Nation should know better than to imaginatively dwell. He threw for 255 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions, but neither he nor Zeke achieved this Sunday success alone. If not for a true team effort, perhaps Linehan’s Clan might have remained as rigid as stone. Even more of Dallas’ bad habits they must regularly and reliably subvert or their winning ways could sadly revert.

Will They Or Won’t They?

The 2-2 Dallas Cowboys head to NRG Stadium to face a 1-3 Houston Texans team equally focused on an early season recovery theme.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and defensive end J.J. “The Milk Man” Watt are to the Texans (far more than) what the Cowboys once hoped they had in Anthony Spencer “For Hire” and DeMarcus “A Man Called Hawk” Ware, but that is neither here nor there.

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And yet (even with that blunt defensive front) Deshaun Watson remains Houston’s best bet. Watson continues to amaze as an undeniable, rocket-armed dual threat. Paired with wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, along with running back Lamar Miller, the Texans’ offense has been a potential thriller, but (particular to Fuller and Miller) the injury bug has recently been an untimely thug.

While the Texans’ secondary ain’t no slouch, recent injuries have key starters hitting the couch with remaining depth asked to quell the ouch. Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu (with bionic knees among other managed injuries) still knows what to do, ready and waiting to triangulate towards you. Veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph may be 34, but (for QB’s none too fearful of a coaching earful) he can still pick and score.

The Cowboys have well-documented (mental and physical) boo-boos of their own. If (for the second week in a row) the opponent is ready to fall and victory places a call, will Dallas eagerly pick up the phone?

Will the continued absence of a spying Sean Lee be felt most against a Texans QB who can really coast?

Will Dak and Zeke continue to peak  . . .  or will Linehan’s Clan spring another on-again, off-again leak?

Will Brice Butler finally debut for tour of (Dallas) duty number two?

Will Tank Lawrence and the “Hot Boyz” become even more QB-unnerving with the long-awaited return of defensive end David Irving?

Will America’s Team continue smartly slinging it  . . .  or will they return to inconsistently winging it?

We shall see. We always do.

Eric M. Scharf

Eric M. Scharf

Editor SportsTalkLiine at SportsTalkLine
Dad of dos, husband, and senior creative management specialist for the greater software industry since 1991. Dallas Cowboys and NFL fan since 1976 and writer provocateur as #TheTorturedCowboysFan since 2008.