The Cowboys remain undefeated against the NFC East in 2013 after a 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins in Arlington, Tex. Sunday night despite losing two starters to injury. A breakdown of the 15-point victory, including the positives, the negatives, and a glass half-full outlook:
Winning won't always be pretty. And Sunday night, it was not necessarily a dominant performance, or one that filled up the stat sheet. But a 15-point win in a game in which DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray both left with injuries is something to be proud of.
How did they do it? Well, Dwayne Harris was a huge part of it. Harris accumulated 222 return yards, including an 86-yard punt return touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up a score, on just four returns. That means no. 17 averaged 55.5 yards every time he touched the ball Sunday night.
Not a bad ratio.
Harris was playing as if he had the Cowboys' Defense/Special Teams on his fantasy roster and he needed a big Sunday night comeback (maybe he started Romo at QB...). And, while allowing 24 more yards than its 29th-ranked season average of 409 yards, that defense stepped up when it needed to. Washington settled for four field goal attempts converting three despite moving the chains 25 times. Bottom line: the 'Skins marched it on Monte Kiffin's defense, but the 'Boys protected their endzone. Sean Lee made a huge stop on RGIII at the goal line, Jason Hatcher had two sacks and a forced fumble, and Kyle Wilber completed the trifecta (sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery) on one play in the fourth quarter to set the offense up inside the five yard line. Orlando Scandrick added a late interception, all but icing the game.
The injuries to Murray and Ware could be the biggest story line of Sunday night's ballgame. Those players have a couple things in common... In addition to identical sets of beginning syllables in their first names, each is a crucial part of the team on his side of the ball. Murray is a key to a balanced offense something Dallas still can't seem to consistently establish as all runners not named DeMarco are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry (81 yards on 31 carries). And DeMarcus Ware is the Cowboys' sack leader and best playmaker in the front seven. If either of those players' injury is a lingering one, there could be trouble atop the NFC East.
Dwayne Harris was great. And frankly he has been all year. But your return man shouldn't outgain your offense on just four touches, period. The Dallas offense mustered just 213 yards (nine less than Harris's return total) in the win. After an 80-yard opening drive, the Cowboys' longest drive was 49 yards. They did that twice one ending in an interception, and the other a field goal. After the offensive outburst last week against Denver, the 'Boys relapsed into a short-yardage, one-dimensional offense. Murray went down early, but that is still not an excuse to gain only 48 yards on the ground with a lead over a team with the league's fourth-worst rushing defense.
Romo averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt after posting 14.1 YPA against the Broncos. It was just the thirteenth time in 105 games since 2006 that Romo averaged less than six YPA. History shows that that is not a recipe for offensive success in Dallas, as the Cowboys have lost 10 of those contests.
So basically, the defense and special teams made the plays for the offense. Dallas recorded 10 of its 18 first downs in the first two possessions, and followed with scoring drives of only three, 15, and 49 yards (perspective: Harris's punt return accounted for 19 more yards than all three of Dallas's other scoring drives in the final three quarters). In what ended up only being a two-score game, there could've been a much different outcome had the offense not been gifted great field position on multiple occasions.
Romo had his worst statistical performance of the young 2013 season, as he posted his worst completion percentage (60 percent), his fewest yards since October of 2011 (170), tied his season low in TDs (1) and his season high in picks (1), which resulted in his lowest passer rating of the year (72.9) by almost 20 points.
But, the Cowboys won, so the Romo haters may just keep their mouths shut for one week.
The pessimist would say the Cowboys got lucky against a bad team despite playing poorly. But the optimist would say that it's a good sign that the Cowboys were able to win without playing their best football. And that's what we'll be here in the 'glass half-full' section the optimist.
Dallas lost the total yardage and time of possession battles, as well as two key starters, but seemed to still control the game. And that is simply a factor of making big plays on both sides of the ball when they need to be made.
Also, the win was the Cowboys' second against division foes this year, and they have a chance to take sole possession of the NFC East lead next week in a showdown with Philadelphia. Whether Sunday was pretty or not, they did what they were supposed to do, and beat an underachieving division rival at home.
And continuing to do what they're supposed to will likely yield a division title.