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What we learned: Defense no longer playing second fiddle for Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys made things too interesting late in their win against Washington but the defense showed up in a big way against the NFC East rivals

DALLAS — After a week of barbs from head coaches, banter on social media between fans, and heated bench debates, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team still had a football game ahead of them in Week 14. Despite the proclamations that Washington was ready for the challenge, it was Dallas – particularly the defense – that stood tall.

The result was exactly what Mike McCarthy said it would be. The Cowboys were victorious for a ninth time in 2021. If everyone had just listened to him in the first place, some of the nonsense that followed could have been avoided. Nevertheless, the win upped Dallas’ lead in the NFC East to three games with four to play.

The intrigue should also linger as these same two teams will meet again in Dallas in Week 16. Before that happens, let’s take a look at what we learned about the Cowboys in their 27-20 Week 14 win:

The defense is legit

For most of the season, it was thought that the Cowboys were getting some turnovers mostly by happenstance. While that was likely true to some degree, there was nothing lucky about getting five sacks, creating four turnovers, and scoring a defensive touchdown against Washington.

Sunday’s game was the first time all year where the Cowboys had their full complement of defensive players on the field at the same time and they proved that they are a unit to be reckoned with.

The return of defensive end Randy Gregory and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore made for a deeper defensive line and everyone made plays to help stymie the Washington offense.

This current version of the Dallas defense has speed, depth, the league leader in interceptions, and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate rookie linebacker. The Cowboys showed what they’re capable of on defense with an impressive showing against the Football Team.

Dak Prescott isn’t right

The Cowboys won the game, and that’s a positive, but it’s easy to spot that quarterback Prescott isn’t playing his best football right now. Prescott made a few poor decisions but managed to only throw two interceptions. The damage was limited because the WFT defense dropped a few errant passes and the Cowboys answered a Prescott pick with an interception of their own.

Prescott threw one of the worst passes in his career on the pick-six late in the game to give the Football Team life.

It’s difficult to understand what’s happened with Prescott in the last month or so compared to earlier in the season, when he was playing at an MVP-level. Given the length of the funk, it might be time to be concerned. Prescott wasn’t sharp in the win, and it almost cost the Cowboys a crucial game.

Neither is Ezekiel Elliott

The Cowboys got out to a big lead in the first half and took the opportunity to get Elliott some rest for his injured leg. In the first 30 minutes, Elliott logged eight carries for 33 yards, and scored on a two-point conversion.

In the second half, however, Elliott only had two carries for five yards before he was essentially sat down for the remainder of the game by the third quarter.

Only when the game got close late in the fourth quarter did the Cowboys insert Elliott back into the game for his final two carries. In total, Elliott had just 13 touches for 60 yards.

If Elliott can play, let him play. If he’s not good to go, hold him out. The half in, half out dance doesn’t seem to be helping.

You aren’t going to punk these Cowboys

Last season against the WFT, then-Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton was hit hard and knocked out of the game by the Washington defense. The frustrating part was no Cowboys players went over to stand up for the QB following the nasty play.

That wasn’t the case with Prescott this time around.

In the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys facing a third-and-eight, Prescott scrambled and hit receiver Amari Cooper for 10 yards and a first down. On the play, Prescott took a hit just before reaching the Cowboys’ sideline, which prompted a much stronger reaction from Dallas.

Right tackle La’el Collins came to Prescott’s defense by rushing over to push - and punch - defensive end Will Bradley-King, and Elliott, who wasn’t part of the play, came over to shove the Washington defender, as well.

It was a clear sign that the Football Team wouldn’t be intimidating the Cowboys this season, and McCarthy applauded the fight shown from Collins.

This Cowboys team is a closer unit than the 2020 version, which is to be expected with their leader back. The players made it clear that they will not abide messing with Prescott and Dallas showed that they are a tougher team in 2021.

Are you happy with where things stand for the Cowboys with four games left on the schedule? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.


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