By Dwain Price
Another game has come and gone where the Dallas Cowboys’ defense looked like they’re ready for a Super Bowl, while the team’s offense looked nowhere near super.
After forcing four turnovers for the third straight game, the Cowboys punished the New York Giants, winning, 21-6, on the road this past Sunday to run their record to an impressive 10-4. It’s the first time since 1994 that the Cowboys produced four takeaways in three consecutive games.
“We showed up ready to play,” said defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.“We got the turnovers that we needed and we got the job done.
“Just to be on a team with a strong defense, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
For Lawrence, it doesn’t get any better than what he did Sunday. First, early in the game, his arm collided with the arm of Giants quarterback Mike Glennon as Glennon attempted a pass.
Ultimately, that pass wound up in the comfortable hands of Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who returned it 17 yards to the New York 13-yard line. From there, Ezekiel Elliott scooted into the end zone for a 6-0 Dallas lead with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter.
Then, in the second quarter, Lawrence punched the ball away from the usually reliable hands of Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley, which Carlos Watkins recovered for the Cowboys. That play led to a field goal as the second quarter time expired.
Remarkably, it was just the first lost fumble for Barkley during his stellar four-year NFL career.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s something we put a lot of time in, and I think it really plays to our skill-set. We have a number of guys, when the ball’s in the air, I don’t even know if it’s 50-50 sometimes. We’re playing with great confidence.”
That same confidence, unfortunately, can’t be said when analyzing the Cowboys’ offense. Once a formidable group that held this team together with magnificent plays, the Cowboys’ offense has manufactured just 15 touchdowns in the team’s last 75 offensive possessions, ranking them 27th in the league over that period of time.
Against the Giants, the Cowboys could muster but two touchdowns, three field goals, and 328 total yards while looking woefully like a shell of their former dominant selves.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said quarterback Dak Prescott, who was 28-of-37 for 217 yards and a two-yard TD to Dalton Schultz. “The defense is doing a great job giving us the ball and giving us the ball in plus territory, and we’ve got to find a way to get in the end zone.”
“We’ll get back to practice, watch the film, make the corrections and find a way to convert these (takeaways) into touchdowns.”
If not, it’s going to be costly in more ways than one. That’s because the Cowboys’ offensive players and defensive players have a friendly wager consisting of whether the defense can carve out more takeaways than touchdowns manufactured by the offense.
“We have a little bet going on — I’ll let everyone know,” Prescott said. “The defense is kicking our (rear end). It’s turnovers vs. touchdowns that we’ve created this week. They obviously won this one (four to two), but we’ll make sure that it carries over.”
In the meantime, cornerback Trevon Diggs intercepted his 10th pass of the season, tying him with Mel Renfro (1969) for second place on the franchise’s all-time list for interceptions in a season and putting him just one behind Everson Walls (1981).
“It’s a blessing,” Diggs said of his 10th interception.“That was actually my goal for the season this year, and I’m happy I reached it. But I didn’t know that I was going to reach it.”
Thanks to Diggs, the Cowboys lead the NFL in interceptions with 23 and are tied with the Indianapolis Colts for first in the league in takeaways with 31.
“They’re doing a great job getting the ball,” Prescott said.“The front seven is attacking, the back ends are getting their hands on balls, and it’s impressive.
“But as I said, we’ve got to reward these guys with touchdowns.”
The Cowboys’ offense did have some measure of success. At least in the running game.
Tony Pollard (12 rushes, 74 yards) and Elliott (16 carries, 52 yards) combined to rush for over 100 yards against the Giants (4-10). The Cowboys are a perfect 9-0 when that duo combines to rush for 100 or more yards in a game and are just 1-4 when they fail to reach that barrier.
“We’re definitely building,” Prescott said. “As I’ve said before, we’re trying to peak at the right time and make sure that we’re headed to the postseason with momentum and playing some of our best ball.
“The defense is doing that. The offense still has some growth to do.”
Field goals of 26, 42, and 27 yards by Greg Zuerlein padded the Cowboys’ halftime lead to 15-3. From there, the defense kept pressuring the Giants and wound up holding them to just 302 total yards even as the Cowboys’ offense continued to sputter.
“A win is a win,” Prescott said. “A win is tough to get in this league and you have to remind yourself that.”
“Even when you want to be frustrated, you want to be, I guess, disappointed in not getting those touchdowns, you have to remember that the NFL is hard, and you’ll take these wins one way or another.
That’s precisely the way McCarthy sizes up the situation.
“We improved as a football team (Sunday),” he said. “We needed to run the ball coming in here and we accomplished that part of it.”
“I always believe in December football. You just got to find ways to win, but you do want to improve.”
As the Cowboys inch closer to not only earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2018 — but also winning the NFC East for the first time in three years – they know they haven’t won any style points lately from an offensive perspective.
Still, they’re longing for the day when their former juggernaut of an offense catches up to their current juggernaut of a defense.
“We know we’re going to make the playoffs,” Lawrence said. “Y’all(media members) know that, too.”
“But at the end of the day, it’s all about that No.1 seed (in the NFC) and keep driving to be the best.”
While they remain in a tense battle with Green Bay (11-3), Tampa Bay (10-4), Arizona (10-4), and the Los Angeles Rams (9-4) for the NFC’s No. 1 seed and the coveted first-round bye in the playoffs, the Cowboys play host to the Washington Football Team next Sunday at 7:20 p.m.
By the time the Cowboys kick off against Washington, they’ll take the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington knowing exactly where they stand among the NFC’s elite teams.
“We can’t sit there and watch the (sports) ticker and try to figure out what’s happening around the league,” Prescott said. “We just got to make sure that we’re handling our business, and things will unfold.
And if they do to the benefit of us, we’ll take it. If not, we’ll take what we have and go control the rest.”