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What we learned: Cowboys applied season’s lessons to earn NFC East title

Along with winning the division, here’s what else we learned about the Cowboys in the Week 16 drubbing on their rivals:
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys' Terence Steele, left, Zack Martin (70), Connor McGovern (66) and others celebrate after Steele caught a touchdown pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

DALLAS — There was optimism heading into the season for the Dallas Cowboys. The team was getting their quarterback back from injury, the head coach was getting a full off-season to prepare for his sophomore campaign, and there was a new defensive coordinator in town. These Cowboys were expected to rebound from the dismal 2020 output.

With all of the talent that made last season such a letdown, it wasn’t difficult to envision an NFC East crown or playoff season for the Cowboys, but you never know. Dallas still had to actually win the football games to get here. Ultimately the feat was accomplished on Sunday, the blowout win over the Washington Football Team put the cherry on top.

Along with winning the division, here’s what else we learned about the Cowboys in the Week 16 drubbing on their rivals:

Cowboys can win in all three phases

Early in the season, the offense was doing most of the heavy lifting while the defense was a supplementary, opportunistic bunch. When the offense cooled off, the defense began getting healthier and stepped up to become a reason that the Cowboys were winning games that were considered ‘ugly.’

Against Washington, the Cowboys had it clicking in all three phases. The offense put up close to 500 yards, scored 42 points, and did it all before taking their foot off the gas with about a quarter and a half to go in the game.

Meanwhile, the increasingly stout defense scored a touchdown, had two interceptions, collected five sacks, and held the Football Team to 257 yards of offense while allowing Washington to convert just three third downs all evening.

Not to be outdone, the special teams pitched in with a blocked punt and a score as well. 

Despite how fun it is when it happens, it has become evident that Dallas doesn’t need to have it going in all three phases at once. Each of the units can be paths to winning if needed.

Up-tempo offense suits Dak Prescott

The offense had been struggling to find a rhythm recently, so Dallas went with a hurry-up approach to put quarterback Prescott back in his groove. The strategy worked as Prescott threw for over 300 yards and four scores in the first half alone. 

The game plan also called for attacking the seams, focusing on intermediate throws, and taking shots down the field when the opportunity presented itself. Those were the kinds of concepts that the offense had been missing recently. The decision from Moore to push the pace and help Prescott get out of his funk should be a massive confidence booster.

Wide receiver Malik Turner is earning a look

Turner has been getting more playing time with fellow wideout Noah Brown unavailable and his effort has been turning heads. The fourth quarter 61-yard catch and run that was followed up with a 5-yard touchdown to Turner demonstrated that he can be a part of the offense.

The backups might have been in for the Dallas offense by that point, but Turner was playing against the defensive starters for the Football Team and made an impact. Turner is also playing on special teams, a sign that the team wants to get him on the field.

Claimed off waivers in 2020 after stints with the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, Turner is a free agent at the end of the year but he’s stating his case to return.

This version of the Cowboys is scary

The Cowboys have been winning games. A perfect 4-0 record in December can attest to that. Yet they hadn’t been playing their best football. Against the rival WFT, however, they played perhaps their best game of the season.

If Dallas is able to maintain the level of play that they displayed against Washington, they’ll be hard to beat. That won’t be easy, of course, but there’s too much talent on both sides of the ball for teams to deal with if the Cowboys are playing well. 

With two games left, the Cowboys can still earn the NFC’s top seed and home field advantage if things fall their way – the offense seems to prefer playing at AT&T Stadium – which would surely enhance their chances of reaching the Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, no matter where, no team will want to face the Cowboys if they are playing like they did against the Football Team. 

Would you give the Cowboys high marks for how they have performed so far in 2021? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi

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