Dak Prescott, Cowboys Beat NFC East Rival Redskins Behind 2 Amari Cooper TDs

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2018

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 22: Josh Norman #24 of the Washington Redskins tries to stop Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter of a football game at AT&T Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty to be thankful for on Thursday. Namely, that they put themselves in the driver's seat in the NFC East.

Led by a huge performance from Amari Cooper (eight catches for 180 receiving yards and two scores), the Cowboys defeated Washington on Thanksgiving, 31-23, moving to 6-5 on the season while securing their spot atop the division in the process.

Dak Prescott threw for 289 yards and two scores in the win, adding a rushing touchdown, while Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown. Colt McCoy had an up-and-down performance in his first start of the year in place of the injured Alex Smith, throwing for 268 yards, two scores and three interceptions.

Dallas controlled the line of scrimmage, out-rushing Washington 146-80, and didn't turn the ball over in the contest. Though it wasn't always pretty, it was a clean performance for the Cowboys.

With the victory, the teams have now split the season series, though the Cowboys currently hold the tiebreaker over Washington (6-5) because of a superior divisional record (3-1 to 2-1) with five games remaining.


Cowboys Are Clear Favorites in NFC East

The Dallas Cowboys are not a perfect football team. Far from it. The offensive line is not the dominant group it was two years ago (though it was largely solid on Thursday). The secondary has lapses. Jason Garrett is a mediocre head coach.

Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks

We need to quit touting the @dallascowboys O-Line as one of the best in football. Injuries and poor production has made this unit an average crew at best. Their inability to pick up a yard on 4th-and-1 vs WAS speaks volumes about where they are as a group.. Losing trench wars

But in a weak NFC East, the Cowboys are starting to pull away from the pack.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

The #Cowboys, improbably, are tied for first place in the NFC East thanks to three wins in a row. Not sure I saw this coming, but here we are...

Washington is without its starting quarterback and forced to rely on a career journeyman backup in McCoy. The offense doesn't have any threatening playmakers outside of Adrian Peterson. The team's secondary simply isn't cutting it.

Then there's Philadelphia, a team beset by one injury after another. The Eagles could still get back into the playoff picture, though it would take an otherworldly stretch from Carson Wentz and a major reversal in general for a team that has looked flat all season long. Of course, it's tough to recover when three-fourths of your starting secondary at the beginning of the season is injured.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg on the injury front for Philadelphia. The defending champs are having a rough go of it this season.

As for the New York Giants, well, they're bad. No need to sugarcoat it: The Giants just plain old stink.

So the Cowboys are now the team to beat, though it's fair to argue that they deserve that distinction on their own merits. Yes, the rest of the division is floundering, but Dallas still has one of the best running backs in football (Elliott), a red-hot receiver in Cooper who has revitalized both Prescott and the passing game in general, and a sneaky-good defense, led by linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, that forced three turnovers Thursday.


ANOTHER INT FOR THE COWBOYS! Dallas is that much closer to 1st place! #WASvsDAL https://t.co/QrV6kusXaA

In the grand scheme of things, the Cowboys aren't on the level of teams like the Saints or Los Angeles Rams in the NFC. They're probably a tier down from the Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, too. But the Cowboys don't need to be better than any of those teams to reach the postseason.

They just need to win the division, and all signs point to that happening without too much drama.


Colt McCoy Isn't Good Enough to Save Washington's Season

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

For much of Thursday's loss, McCoy wasn't bad. He completed 68.8 percent of his passes, after all, including two touchdown throws. But there were two moments that served as reminders that McCoy isn't the sort of quarterback likely to lead Washington to the postseason.

The first came late in the third quarter after Cooper had scored the second of his two touchdowns to help give Dallas a 24-13 lead. On the second play of Washington's ensuing possession, McCoy dropped back to pass and took aim at Josh Doctson on a quick out.

Instead, a leaping Demarcus Lawrence intercepted the pass, giving the Cowboys the ball back at the Washington 17. Five plays later, Prescott found the end zone, and the Cowboys had an 18-point lead.

Sure, you could blame Morgan Moses for missing his cut block on the play. But McCoy still pulled the trigger despite Lawrence being upright. The error falls on both players.

But Washington battled back, scoring a touchdown on its next drive and coming up with a crucial fourth-down stop on Dallas' ensuing possession. Suddenly, Washington somehow had life again with about five-and-a-half minutes remaining.

So what did McCoy do? Four plays into the team's next drive, he tried to force the ball downfield into coverage and was instead intercepted. Once again, he made a poor decision in a huge moment.

Still, Washington was down just two scores late in the fourth quarter. But McCoy and the Washington offense simply didn't move downfield quickly enough and ultimately ran out of time to mount a comeback.

ig: josinaanderson @JosinaAnderson

Redskins decision at QB after the Alex Smith injury will continue to be revisited. Some good plays from Colt McCoy & some grit, but also 3 INTs and the loss. Also, could've been more urgency on offense in the 4thQ down 24-13, especially on that last drive. Tackling an issue too.

Despite Dallas exploding for 21 points in about seven minutes in the second half, Washington could have still stolen the win. Instead, McCoy robbed that opportunity with several costly errors.

McCoy wasn't Washington's only problem on Thursday. But he isn't a solution, either, and Washington simply isn't talented enough to reach the postseason with a mediocre quarterback.


Amari Cooper Has Reshaped Cowboys Offense, Saved Jason Garrett's Job

The Cowboys traded a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper a month ago, a steep price to pay until you consider that the deal may have saved Dallas' season and Garrett's job in the process.

Zach Berman @ZBerm

Quibble about the price, but harder to knock the player — Amari Cooper is going to be a challenge in the NFC East for years.

At the time of the trade, Dallas was 3-4. Their passing offense ranked 29th in the NFL, averaging just 183 passing yards per game. The team had no real weapons in the passing game, allowing opposing defenses to load up the box and focus on the run game instead.

Prescott was playing poorly, Garrett was on the hot seat and the Cowboys needed to make a move. They went with Cooper.

Things didn't start great. After losing their first game with Cooper in the lineup against the Tennessee Titans, the Cowboys moved to 3-5 and their season was put on life support. Cooper had a decent game, with five receptions for 58 yards and a score.

But since then, the Cowboys are reborn. And Cooper is the main reason why.

In his past three games, all wins for Dallas, Cooper has 17 catches for 291 yards and two scores. While he wasn't a big-play machine until Thursday, he's given Prescott a reliable wideout who is the team's best route-runner, with the ability to create separation, stretch the field deep and make plays after the catch.

And, boy, was he awesome on Thursday:

FOX Sports @FOXSports

TOUCHDOWN COWBOYS! Amari Cooper showing off that 2nd gear ✌️✌️ #WASvsDAL https://t.co/zh6FgmggGD


Amari Cooper is GOING OFF!! His 2nd TD today, this one for 90 YARDS! #WASvsDAL https://t.co/15xd6LwEzq

That has forced defenses to respect Dallas' passing game, in the process opening up running lanes for Elliott while taking some of the pressure off Prescott.

Look, the Cowboys aren't suddenly a dynamic offense like the Kansas City Chiefs. This isn't an elite team. But Cooper has brought balance to the team's offense, and that balance might be enough to lead the team to an NFC East title.

Reach the playoffs, and Garrett's job is likely saved. Whether Cowboys fans should want Garrett to remain at the helm is another story entirely, but if he does, he'll have Cooper to thank.


What's Next?

The Cowboys face a major test next Thursday night, hosting the 9-1 New Orleans Saints, one of the league's top Super Bowl contenders this season. Washington, meanwhile, has a key divisional matchup Dec. 3 against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (4-6), who have floundered this season but are still in the NFC East running.