If the Dallas Cowboys yearned to finish with a better record than they did in 2015 (4-12), then they certainly got an early Christmas present this past Sunday afternoon, as they picked up a 41-33 win over the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium. The victory gives Dallas (5-9) their fifth of the season and, due to the state of the NFC East, keeps things interesting in regard to playoff possibilities. Did anyone mention this puts Dallas on a two-game winning streak, as well?
Whatever the celebrations, here is my breakdown of the game.
The lack of Ezekiel Elliott did not disturb the Dallas offense from churning out points, as the collective unit scored 40 or more points in their second-straight meeting against the 49ers (the Cowboys scored 40 on Oct. 22, 2017 at Levi’s Stadium).
Running back Tony Pollard, in Elliott’s absence, did not miss a beat, as the 23-year-old slammed in two rushing touchdowns in a season-high 12 carries for 69 yards. Pollard’s 5.8 rushing yards per carry was his best since he averaged 12.0 rushing yards per carry against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 22.
Quarterback Andy Dalton, meanwhile, continued his good-enough production under center, as the TCU product went 19/33 with 209 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Quietly, Dalton, with help from the likes of Pollard, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, CeeDee Lamb (who tallied a nice kick return touchdown) and company, has a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio (TD/Int) over his past three games. While Dalton is not Dak Prescott, he is good enough to keep it creative.
Creative is definitely a key word, but simple is an even more significant one in regard to the Dallas offense clicking. While the 49ers have definitely not been the luckiest team in regard to health, the Dalton-led Cowboys, with their surplus of weapons even without Elliott and their star-patented offensive line, should be given credit for capitalizing on San Francisco mistakes. Now, about those mistakes…
For the second week in a row, a Cowboys’ opponent suffered from a severe case of the turnover bug. After the Cincinnati Bengals committed three turnovers against Dallas in Week 14, the Nick Mullens-captained 49ers committed four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles lost) in their Week 15 matchup in the Big D. The turnover problem, coupled with savvy tackling out of the line of scrimmage from Jaylon Smith and Jourdan Lewis (who combined for 16 total tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack), helped mitigate the lengthy drives San Francisco was able to put up on a porous and slow-moving Dallas defensive front.
Dallas was able to get stops when needed, but the same problem that has plagued the team all year reared its ugly head again for this game, as the intermediate passing plays and rushes off of the edge were unable to be contained. The speed from the pass-rush is just not there. While Dallas got the win, the long-term outlook of the defense will need to be addressed should Dallas make any legitimate playoff noise this year (somehow?) and in future seasons as well.
Although Greg Zuerlein’s 60-yard field goal attempt tailed away, the kicker still nailed two 40-yard chips and added five extra-point kicks to boot (no pun intended). All in all, a solid day from the much-utilized 32-year-old.
The Cowboys close out their 2020 home slate with a matchup against the division rival Philadelphia Eagles at 4:25 p.m. EST on Dec. 27.