The Cowboys had to quickly turn around and host the New York Giants on Thanksgiving just a few days after dropping 40 points on the Vikings’ heads. Dallas started slow but found themselves after halftime, coming away winners with a final score of 28-20 and improving to 8-3.
After giving the Cowboys high marks across the board for the blowout in Minnesota, the grades for this game won’t be as superlative. Which groups contributed most to the victory, and which have something to think about during the long break to Week 13?
Cowboys Offense: C+
New York’s defense has been average at best this season. They were missing both starting cornerbacks in this one, leaving everyone expecting that Dallas’ offense would feast. But the Cowboys nearly made this a much closer game than it had any right to be. Only scoring one touchdown in the first half, their other drives in the first and second quarters ended in two interceptions, a punt, and a failed fourth-down conversion.
The execution improved after halftime as Dallas scored touchdowns on its next three possessions. After the few miscues early, QB Dak Prescott looked like he did in Minnesota with sharp passing and two scoring throws to TE Dalton Schultz. It was another nice outing for WR CeeDee Lamb with six catches for 106 yards, and Michael Gallup looked more and more like his old self with several contested catches.
For the first time in a while, Ezekiel Elliott was the pack leader at running back. He supplied 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries while Tony Pollard chipped in 60 yards on 18 carries. After a few weeks of Pollard shining brightly, it was a nice reminder that this is still a two-back system and that Elliott can still do plenty with his own touches.
While Prescott didn’t get sacked today, the offensive line wasn’t at its best in protection. Dak was pressured and hit several times and penalties again stymied the offense at points. While a rare holding call against Zack Martin appears to have been fraudulent, Tyler Smith struggled at points and the Giants were able to disrupt things more than you’d like to see.
If the Cowboys’ defense hadn’t been so good, this game could’ve gotten out of hand early. Thankfully the offense got back on track in the second half, but those early issues pulled their grade down overall.
Cowboys Defense: B+
It was a strong effort overall by the defense with some standout performers. But if Giants QB Daniel Jones had been more accurate, there were some opportunities for big plays by New York that could’ve made this a much different game. Dallas was lucky that he missed some short throws to convert on third downs, one in particular to RB Saquon Barkley that looked like could’ve gone for a touchdown.
Still, the Cowboys did their part to make it a tough day for the Giants. Their improved run defense showed up again, limiting Barkley to just 39 yards on 11 carries and forcing New York to try to keep up through the air. If not for a 44-yard jump ball to WR Darius Slayton, Jones would’ve been held to just 184 passing yards and New York would’ve barely had over 250 yards of total offense.
Micah Parsons posted two sacks and Dorance Armstrong chipped in a third to keep that Dallas pass rush looking potent. But given that the Giants were missing three starting offensive linemen, including their right tackle, it was surprising that the Cowboys weren’t able to harass Daniel Jones even more than they did. But with New York running plays specifically to keep Jones from holding the ball long, credit Dallas’ linebackers and secondary for doing their part to avoid too many big plays.
You’d certainly like to see more out of Dallas’ coverage guys not named Trevon Diggs. While CB Anthony Brown is getting a lot of attention right now for giving up big plays, you’re not seeing much out of other defenders in making plays the other way. They have their moments, but with this pass rush being so good you’d expect a bit more capitalization in the secondary or even at linebacker in terms of takeaways or at least consistent wins in coverage.
Cowboys Special Teams: B
There wasn’t much here to go on. Bryan Anger only punted once all day and booted it 51 yards. Brett Maher only got one field goal attempt and it was his first surprising miss of the year, a 46-yarder that went just a little wide. And KaVontae Turpin didn’t even get to do a return.
Still, Maher did connect on all four of his extra-point attempts. And the Giants also didn’t benefit much on their own special teams, getting nothing from kickoffs and only three yards on one returned punt. Sometimes the special teams battle isn’t about big plays and more about the subtleties of field position, and Dallas did the job overall of making New York have to march the field to find points.
Cowboys Coaches: B
Between the short week and the huge road win in Minnesota, the potential for a letdown game was certainly there. And for the first two quarters, it felt like that’s exactly what Dallas was going to serve up.
While we can’t say exactly what happened in the halftime locker room, it certainly seemed to do the trick. The Cowboys looked like themselves again and dominated the second half, with New York’s last touchdown only coming in garbage time. The 21-0 shutout from the start of the third quarter until then felt much more like the Dallas team we saw against the Vikings.
It was disappointing that the Cowboys didn’t do more with the clear mismatches New York’s injuries presented them with. The passing game didn’t seem nearly as explosive as you’d have thought with both starting cornerbacks out. The pass rush didn’t seem as effective despite all the missing starters on the Giants offensive line. Either New York has better backups than most NFL teams, or Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn didn’t press their advantages the way we’d have expected.
But that being said, this was a rivalry game on a short week. We’ve seen the generally clunky, subpar play on Thursdays all year and the Thanksgiving games are no exception to that. The Cowboys powered through those things and played enough quality football to win decisively against a team that was 7-3 going into the week. You can’t ask for much more than that.