The battle of the rebuilds was in full swing this past Sunday, and no, this was not in referral to the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers matchup. Instead, the bout for who could claim a higher draft pick involved the Dallas Cowboys as they visited “the Jungle” to face off against the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals Dec. 13.
While Dallas lost to Cincinnati’s division mate in the Baltimore Ravens during their Week 13 matchup, the Cowboys were able to put together one of their more complete (and only) wins of the season, with Cincinnati being the unlucky (or lucky?) victim. The 30-7 win in the Cowboys’ favor would be Dallas’s second road victory of the season.
Here is my breakdown of the convincing Dallas win.
A 23-point victory in favor of the Cowboys would automatically lead to obvious reasoning under normal circumstances – the offense did the majority of the lifting. While this might have been true with a healthy Dak Prescott and offensive line, it was far from the truth in this game. More on that in a minute.
Regardless of who deserved the majority of the praise, the Cowboys’ offense did what was needed, despite being out-gained in terms of total yards by Cincinnati (272 vs. 309). The total yard output, despite the lopsided score, ranked 10th among 13 games in terms of total yards. Whatever the weather, the offense still went out there and performed.
Andy Dalton, in his first-ever game against his former team, went 16/23 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Amari Cooper picked up his fifth touchdown of the season, while running back Tony Pollard (who only rushed for 39 yards on 11 carries) picked up his second career receiving touchdown.
Yes, Cincinnati’s secondary is not an earth-shattering unit. Correct, the rushing attack did not do much to break through a work-in-progress front-seven. All are valid points. In a season that is all but chalked up to moral victories at this point, though, the Cowboys will take away a plethora of positives from this performance.
If the offense did not lead the majority of turned heads in regard to the lopsided score, what did? Well, you are looking at it. Yes, the defense, of all areas, picked up some much-needed slack and was able to capitalize off of a porous Bengals’ offensive line to create enough chaos to prevent quarterback Brandon Allen from fully settling in. The same thing could be said for the Cincinnati run game, as running back Giovani Bernard (who has taken the bulk of the rushing duties in Joe Mixon’s absence) started off the game in disastrous fashion, due in large part to a fumble via a strip-tackle by Dallas edge-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. The fumble, in fact, led to Bernard getting benched until the third quarter. The disaster continued for Cincinnati after their initial drive, as the Bengals would fumble on their next two drives, headlined by a 78-yard fumble recovery touchdown by Aldon Smith (yes, that Aldon Smith). The touchdown was the first for the 31-year-old Smith in his NFL career. A couple fourth-down stops topped off a relatively productive and eventful Cowboys’ defensive display.
Again, Cincinnati is in the midst of a rebuild in regard to their offensive line, and that is putting it lightly. Even still, the aggression by Dallas has to account for something. There were brief glimpses in previous games, and it all came to a head during this matchup. Perhaps, this is a sign for things to come. Maybe, at least?
Kicker Greg Zuerlein rebounded from a forgetful Week 13 performance against the Baltimore Ravens to go a perfect 3/3 in field goal and extra-point attempts. Any result would have been a rebound from the previous game, but a perfect result? Dallas will take it.
The Cowboys head back home to play the San Francisco 49ers in one of their final two home games Dec. 20 at 1:00 p.m. EST.