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The 5 O’Clock Club: A’bout them Cowboys

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Coach of Dallas Cowboys Jimmy Johnson

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


Fun Fact

Here’s a fun fact: the winner of Thursday’s game between Washington and Dallas will — at least for the moment — be in first place in the NFC East.

Hard to believe, n’est pas?

The winner of Thursday’s game will be 4-7, and — at least until Sunday — will hold a half-game lead on the Giants and an even more slender lead on the Eagles.

  • The Giants are playing the Bengals at 1:00 on Sunday and are favored to win that game (-5.5 points).
  • The Eagles are home against the Seahawks on Monday night, and are 5 point home underdogs.

Losing in Dallas: a Thanksgiving tradition for Washington fans

It is always tough to play in Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys have hosted the game every year since 1966 except for 1975 and 1977. During that time, the longest Cowboys losing streak has been four games (1986-89).

The winning has been surprisingly consistent among Cowboys’ quarterbacks, Danny White has the most wins on Thanksgiving with a mark of 7-1, Tony Romo was 6-3, and Troy Aikman was 5-5. Dak Prescott is 2-2. Of course, Dandy Don Meredith is the only undefeated Cowboys’ QB on Thanksgiving, going 3-0.

Overall, the Cowboys are 30-21-1 on Thanksgiving, including 8-1 against Washington. The two teams’ most recent Turkey day contest was two years ago, a 31-23 Dallas win.

In Washington’s lone Thanksgiving day win in Dallas back in 2012, Robert Griffin III completed 19 of 27 passes for 304 yards and had 4 touchdown passes and 1 interception on his way to winning the Galloping Gobbler Award issued to the player deemed to have had the best performance in the game. Alfred Morris also had 113 yards rushing on 24 carries and 1 touchdown while the Redskins defense intercepted two Tony Romo passes and sacked him three times.

In fact, success has been a bit more elusive for Cowboy’s teams in Jerruh’s World of late than it had been in the past. The Cowboys are just 5-6 at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving.

Despite the Cowboys’ historical dominance over Washington on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, based on what I saw of the Cowboys in the game at FedEx in Week 7, I was ready to call for a win in this week’s road game, but the Dallas team that played well in a loss against the Steelers and then upset the Vikings on the road isn’t the same team we saw in DC a few weeks ago.

The Dallas players I’ve seen on the field for the past two weeks are fired up and ready to play ball. As documented above, they are always tough at home against Washington on Turkey day, and, somehow, since rolling over and playing dead against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, the Dallas players seem to have rediscovered motivation and desire to win.

The Cowboys game against Pittsburgh

The Steelers, of course, are the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team. They are winning by an average margin of 12.4 points per game.

Given the drubbing that the Cowboys took at the hands of the Washington Football Team (25-3 in a game that wasn’t that close) and the Philadelphia Eagles (23-9) in Weeks 7 and 8, the expectation was that the boys in black & gold would mop the floor with the pansies in silver & blue in Week 9.

It didn’t really go as expected.

In an unpromising situation, Garrett Gilbert was the fourth different starting quarterback in five games for Dallas, but the inexperienced quarterback, who was drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 draft, and who has been signed by 7 different NFL teams, and who quarterbacked the Orlando Appolos of the AAF in 2019, threw a touchdown pass in his first career start to bring some life to the offense.

The Steelers were actually behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter, but three scoring drives, the last two aided by Dallas penalties, kept drives alive. The go-ahead score was an 8-yarder to Eric Ebron with just 2:14 remaining, leading Cowboys fans to spend a breathless week talking about how they “almost won” the game.

Gilbert had a last chance in the final minute after coach Mike Tomlin tried to convert a fourth-and-1 instead of kicking a short field goal for an eight-point lead, but the Dallas quarterback’s pass to the goal line as time expired was knocked away by Minkah Fitzpatrick to seal the win.

This was a game in which the Cowboys went toe to toe with one of the NFL’s best teams and gave them a scare. Pittsburgh had to play hard to get the win, and the Dallas defense, that had played horrible football for the first half of the season, suddenly looked like it belonged on an NFL field.

Road trip to play the Vikings

The Cowboys played in the late afternoon time slot against the Vikings in Minnesota this past Sunday. After watching my favorite team get a convincing win against the Bengals — a feat that saw me sit up until past 4 a.m. Bangkok time — I tried to stay up longer to watch the Cowboys-Vikings matchup. I made it to halftime, a bit frustrated at Minnesota’s inability to put away the Cowboys in the first half.

I woke up around 7:30 a.m. to the sounds of traffic outside and was frustrated to see that the game feed had ended. It took me about 5 minutes to find out who won the game. I was surprised to see that it was the Cowboys, and that they had put up 31 points in securing the win.

While the Cowboy offense had been dynamic during the first five weeks of the season under Dak Prescott, putting up 17, 40, 31, 38, and 37 points, it had been largely moribund since his injury, scoring 10, 3, 9, and 19 leading up to the Vikings game.

I had even imagined that the Cowboys players, having left it all on the field against Pittsburgh only to come up empty, might be flat again for their road trip to the frozen tundra.

Again, the Cowboys surprised me, this time coming away with the win.

On offense, Andy Dalton threw for 203 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Zeke Elliott ran for over 100 yards for the first time in 2020 at a rate of 4.9 ypa, with Tony Pollard adding another 60 yards and a touchdown.

Amari Cooper put up 81 receiving yards. CeeDee Lamb had 4 catches, including a circus catch in the end zone that will be on all the highlight reels for the rest of the season and beyond. Even TE Dalton Schultz got in the act with 4 catches and a TD.

Defensively, Dallas didn’t exactly shut the Vikings down, as Cousins threw for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Dalvin Cook rumbled for 115 yards and a score, but Dallas forced two fumbles, which was enough, despite the defense giving up 28 points.

What does this mean for Washington?

This all means that Thursday’s game in Dallas should be interesting.

As mentioned above, the Cowboys typically play well on Thanksgiving, but they aren’t invulnerable, and haven’t been close to it recently, winning just 5 of their last 11 Turkey day games. Washington has played on Thanksgiving Day 4 times in the past decade.

2012 Win 38-31 @ Cowboys

2016 Loss 31-26 @ Cowboys

2017 Win 20-10 vs. Giants

2018 Loss 31-23 @ Cowboys

If the win-loss-win-loss pattern holds, then the Football Team is due for a win this year. The contests in Dallas seem to typically be high-scoring affairs with the LOSING team scoring 31, 26, and 23 points. The winner in Dallas has put up at least 31 points in all three games.

While the Dallas defense had a good effort against the Steelers, they didn’t really stop the Vikings, nor have they stopped anyone else this season. Every team they have played has scored at least 23 points, and Dallas is still last in the league, giving up an average of 31.8 points per game.

Unfortunately, Washington has struggled to score points, ranked 29th in the league at 20 points per game. The team, however, has scored more effectively of late, putting up 25, 20, 27, and 20 points in their last 4 games, and Alex Smith has seemed increasingly in control of Scott Turner’s offense. It seems achievable for Washington to put up 31 against Dallas; in their last game against the Cowboys, the burgundy & gold scored 25, but Rivera opted to run out the clock at the end of that game rather than add to the score down the stretch.

Defensively for Washington, there wouldn’t seem to be a great deal to worry about if the Cowboys hadn’t just played so well against the Steelers, who boast the NFL’s top-ranked defense. The Washington defense is ranked in the top-ten in nearly every traditional metric, and is ranked 7th overall by Football Outsiders advanced DVOA metric. However, the Dallas offense was scary good at putting up points with Dak Prescott at the helm, and, while the Cowboys offense fell in a hole from Weeks 6 to 8, its return to life over the past two games means that Jack Del Rio’s boys will have to play their best to contain this Dallas offense that is still ranked 6th overall in Yards Per Game.

All in all, it looks like an anything-is-possible matchup between the two longstanding rivals who will play in front of an estimated 30,000 fans on Thursday, which would mark the largest live audience for an NFL game in 2020. Hopefully, they will have very little to cheer for.

Poll

Predict the winner of Thursday’s game

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Washington
    (104 votes)
  • 36%
    Dallas
    (61 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which team will lead the division at the end of Week 12?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Philly
    (6 votes)
  • 44%
    New York
    (74 votes)
  • 35%
    Washington
    (59 votes)
  • 16%
    Dallas
    (28 votes)
167 votes total Vote Now