3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 13 Win
With four of their final five regular-season games set to be played against NFC East rivals, the Dallas Cowboys needed a win Thursday night. They have struggled of late, and their lead in the division was beginning to dwindle.
Dallas had lost two straight games and three of their previous four entering the matchup. And it wasn't going to be easy. The Cowboys were going into New Orleans' hostile Caesars Superdome, and they were doing so without head coach Mike McCarthy and several of his assistants, all of whom were out because of COVID-19 protocols.
Still, Dallas got it done. It took control of the game late in the first half and then relied on its defense to close out a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys notched four interceptions, all of which came against Saints quarterback Taysom Hill.
Greg Zuerlein kicked a pair of field goals in the final nine minutes, 4 seconds of the second quarter to give Dallas a 13-7 lead at halftime, and New Orleans couldn't erase the deficit.
Here are three takeaways from Dallas' Week 13 win.
Few Defenses Are Better at Making Big Plays
Entering Thursday, the Cowboys were tied for first in the NFL with 19 interceptions. After Week 13, there's a good chance they are going to be alone in first in that category.
Trevon Diggs, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse and Carlos Watkins all picked off Hill, and three of those interceptions came in the fourth quarter. Diggs already led the NFL in interceptions, and he now has a remarkable nine this season.
But the most impressive turnover came courtesy of Watkins, who shut down the Saints' comeback attempt by scoring a touchdown on a 29-yard interception return with 2:52 to go, stretching the Cowboys' lead to 27-10. It was Dallas' fourth pick-six of the season, and the only other years in which it has had that many in were 1999, 1995 and 1985, per Cowboys public relations.
"It's definitely an early Christmas present," Watkins said of his first career TD, per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. "It's every fat guy's dream, to get a pick and make it to the end zone."
The Saints offense was missing some key players, and the Cowboys defense capitalized. But that shouldn't have been a surprise. This defense is becoming known for making big plays, which could be what powers Dallas into the playoffs this season.
The Running Game Still Needs to Be More Consistent
The Cowboys had 146 rushing yards against a solid Saints defensive front. However, 58 of those yards came on a third-quarter touchdown scamper by Tony Pollard. Outside of that, Dallas' running game struggled to get much going for a lot of the night.
Ezekiel Elliott, who has been dealing with a knee injury, had 13 carries for 45 yards. He hasn't run for 100 yards in a game since Week 5, and he's been held to 69 or fewer yards on the ground in each of his seven games since.
Pollard had an impressive TD run, but he was held to 13 yards on his other six carries. And 33 of the Cowboys' other rushing yards came on a lone attempt by wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
For now, Pollard's big-play potential is keeping Dallas' ground game afloat. But if the Cowboys are going to be successful throughout the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, they need to start picking up more consistent yardage with their rushing attack.
When Dallas can do that, it opens things up even more for its passing game and consequently makes it a much more dynamic offense.
The Cowboys Are in a Good Spot to Close Out NFC East Race
The Washington Football Team has been surging, the Philadelphia Eagles have flashed their potential and the New York Giants have been playing better. Still, the Cowboys are the clear top team in the NFC East, and they are in a good position to capture their first division crown since 2018.
Dallas plays Washington twice in its next three games, meetings that sandwich a Week 15 road matchup in New York. The Cowboys host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 (their lone remaining non-divisional game) before ending the regular season on the road against the Eagles.
So of Dallas' four remaining NFC East matchups, three will be on the road. Despite that, the Cowboys could have three more wins than any other team in the division after Sunday, and it would take a sizable collapse for one of their rivals to pass them in the standings.
Now that Dallas has ended its recent skid, it's in a good spot to get rolling again and to build momentum ahead of the postseason. Because at this point, it seems highly likely that's where the 8-4 Cowboys are heading.