A rushing attack that included three trips to the end zone for DeMarco Murray and a 12-of-12 second half passing performance by Tony Romo propelled the Cowboys past the Raiders on Thanksgiving, 31-24. A breakdown of the Turkey Day win, including the positives, the negatives, and a glass-half-full outlook:
The good news was that, for those who ate their Thanksgiving meal in the early afternoon, the tryptophan just might’ve been strong enough to let Cowboys fans sleep through the first 28:04 of the game and wake up in time to see Dallas tally 24 consecutive points.
While such a turkey-induced siesta would have been convenient for Cowboy fans of the fair-weather variety, there were plenty of positives from the ‘Boys on the field. One of which was the running game featuring Murray and Lance Dunbar. Murray ran for 63 yards on 17 carries while finding the end zone three different times in his first ever multi-TD game. His 3.7 yards per carry won’t set any records, but the third year back was solid after contact and was effective in short-yardage situations. Murray as also impressive when the Cowboys needed it in the second half as he rushed 12 times for 68 yards (5.7 yards per carry) in the latter two quarters.
Dunbar made Murray’s job a lot easier. The North Texas alum amassed 82 yards on 12 total carries, including a 45-yard third quarter run that helped set up one of Murray’s three TDs.
The running game and passing game had a mutualistic relationship (sorry to throw symbiotic relationships into a football article) on Turkey Day, a rare sight for the 2013 Dallas offense. While the Cowboys’ balance (they ran 32 pass plays and 30 running plays) was due in large part to a heavy dose of runs late, it was refreshing to see. And on top of that balance, Romo – who was apparently sick during the game – targeted six different receivers at least three times on those 32 attempts. Five of the six receivers caught at least three passes, highlighted by Dez Bryant’s seven catches for 61 yards and the game-tying score in the third quarter.
Balance on offense is something the ‘Boys have been searching for all season, or at least we in the media have suggested they search for it, and Thursday was a good example of why. Dallas gained 10 first downs through the air and 10 on the ground and scored 31 efficient points. If you take away the first quarter-and-a-half, it was a very solid offensive performance by the Cowboys.
The defense also came up big when the Cowboys needed it most. Oakland was forced to punt on its first three drives of the second half – running only 10 plays for 31 yards during that stretch – and its fourth drive ended in a Brandon Carr interception in the end zone. The offense played well to run off 24 consecutive points, but it couldn’t have done that without solid play from Kiffin’s group.
In Wednesday’s “Face-Off” piece, our good friend Eddie Middlebrook labeled the return game as “a significant drop off” if special teams sensation Dwayne Harris wasn’t able to suit up. Well, Harris didn’t suit up, and that prophecy became reality in the first 12 seconds of the game. Terrance Williams fumbled the opening kickoff after taking it out from nine yards deep in the end zone and Oakland’s Greg Jenkins ran it back 20 yards to put the Cowboys in an early – nay, immediate – hole.
Cole Beasley was okay returning punts, but Dallas certainly missed no. 17 and those glorious dreadlocks. Beasley’s longest return was 14 yards (Harris’s average on the year), and otherwise he totaled 13 yards on three other punt returns. The moral of the story is: anyone who doesn’t think special teams play makes a huge difference needs to have a change of heart. Because Dwayne Harris is a game-changer, and unfortunately his absence showed that Thursday.
I mentioned not too long ago – three paragraphs, or 161 words, ago, if you forgot – that the defense played a good game. And they did, but they can’t completely escape my faultfinding. There were two consecutive Raider possessions, at the very end of the first quarter and for a good chunk of the second, during which Oakland totaled 129 yards on 24 plays over a span of 13 minutes and 16 seconds.
Now, last I checked, Matt McGloin isn’t Peyton Manning. And I don’t think Oakland flew in Mr. Manning and pulled a switcheroo on those two possessions since the two are of very little resemblance.
Those two first half possessions are a small sample of the larger whole, as there were eight other possessions on which the defense kept Oakland in check, but the two drives accounted for almost an entire quarter of play, and gave the Cowboys a 21-7 deficit. Andre Holmes, who entered the game with five career catches, hauled in seven McGloin passes for 136 yards.
So maybe it’s just me, but there’s reason for concern. Letting an average quarterback and a below-average receiver do that – even if for only 20 percent of a game – shows why the Dallas D is ranked last in the league. It shows why teams that are actually good can put up five and six hundred yards in a single contest against them.
With 10 full days off before their next contest on Monday Night Football, it’s almost like getting another bye week. It’s possible that Sean Lee, the rock of Dallas’s defense, will be back. And if Lance Dunbar’s knee injury is not severe – Dr. Jerry said it’s probably not – then the ‘Boys don’t have any more significant injuries after playing two games in five days. And that has to be considered a win.
A Dallas team that has played pretty well in consecutive weeks could get even better with the return of Lee and Harris, which is a good sign heading toward the – sshh, don’t look now….