In what was a back-and-forth contest for about three quarters, the Dallas Cowboys ripped off 33 unanswered points the fourth quarter to turn their Week 13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts into a massive blowout. The final score makes the game seem more lopsided than it was, though, and makes the process of grading the Cowboys’ performance a little more nuanced than you might think.
While Indianapolis never had the lead after early in the second quarter, they kept things close until the early fourth. And while the Cowboys did their part by finishing drives late, it was the Colts’ mistakes and turnovers that facilitated those opportunities. So in the end, how much did Dallas’ various units really contribute to the win?
Cowboys Offense: B
Despite their losing record in 2022, the Colts still have the NFL’s 9th-best defense even after this game. So it shouldn’t have been shocking that Dallas wasn’t able to just have its way with them on Sunday night. But on four of their first six possessions, the Cowboys had three punts and an interception. A three-and-out on the opening series allowed Indy to get first blood with a field goal. Even after halftime, Dallas had another three-and-out on its next touch. Until the Colts’ meltdown in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were having some real problems with them.
Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott had another big night as a tandem, which is now becoming a weekly occurrence. Pollard had 91 yards and two scores on just 12 carries while Zeke chipped in 77 yards and another score. Even Malik Davis got in the action with a 23-yard touchdown run during garbage time. With a couple of sweep plays from WR CeeDee Lamb included, Dallas finished with an impressive 220 rushing yards and four scores on 34 plays.
The passing game was muted most of the night. Dak Prescott only finished with 170 yards, though some of that was due to the ground game dominance. But while he had some beautiful connections at times with Lamb and Michael Gallup, and finished drives with three passing touchdowns, this game served to illustrate why Dallas is in the market for free agent Odell Beckham Jr. We’ve yet to see any other receiver step up consistently, and there’s no telling what James Washington will be like when he’s healthy. The Cowboys need that additional guy to open things up through the air and create more mismatches.
Cowboys Defense: A-
Outside of the big 45-yard pass to Colts WR Alec Pierce, once again courtesy of CB Anthony Brown’s coverage, the defense did its job. Even before Indy started giving the ball away freely, they were held to just 19 points and under 300 yards of total offense. Dallas continued to show its improved run defense by holding RB Jonathan Taylor to just 82 yards on 21 carries.
Of course, the real story here was all the turnovers. Malik Hooker’s big night against his former team wasn’t just a novelty; his two turnovers came at crucial moments which had a significant impact on the outcome. His interception just before halftime prevented Indy from potentially taking the lead and set up Dallas’ for their own score before the break. His fumble return for a touchdown came when the Colts were still just nine points away and seemed to spark the obliteration that followed.
It was a night that many guys stepped up in the place of the usual stars. Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, Dorance Armstrong, and DeMarcus Lawrence weren’t your standouts in this one. Rookie CB DaRon Bland had two picks while the sacks came from Donovan Wilson, Anthony Barr, and Osa Odighizuwa. We saw Leighton Vander Esch make some critical stops and Sam Williams secure another Colts fumble. It was a true all-around effort.
Cowboys Special Teams: C
Between allowing a blocked extra-point attempt and giving up 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, it wasn’t the best night for this usually stellar group. Their opportunities were somewhat limited as Brett Maher never tried a field goal and the Colts punt team did a good job of forcing KaVontae Turpin into fair catches. But for the workload they had, there were definitely some warts they’ll want to be removed going forward.
Cowboys Coaches: B-
Again, we have to look at this entire game and not just the final score. Failing to get a 1st-down on your first possession of the game, and again on the first one after halftime, is a bad look for any offensive coordinator. Kellen Moore still at times feels like a beneficiary of his talent and not the one making it great. While you can’t argue against his offense’s rankings over the course of a season, he still creates doubt about how the Cowboys will fare against the NFL’s best teams in the playoffs.
It was a great night for Dan Quinn for all the reasons we mentioned above with the defense. Seeing guys actually finish the play when the ball is in the air is such a treat after the Rod Marinelli years; arguably the biggest change in the defense with Quinn’s arrival. He especially deserves credit for getting the run defense back to respectability, as a few weeks ago it was starting to look like an Achilles heel.
Overall, the Cowboys did their duty against a scrappy team. Mike McCarthy’s crew has proven that they can make mid-game adjustments and keep the players invested even when things aren’t going their way early. This week’s game against the woefully bad Houston Texans will be a good test in Dallas’ mental approach and killer instinct.