There was a point earlier in the season when the Dallas Cowboys boasted the most effective rushing attack in the NFL. But for the back half of the season, the ground game had failed to either establish early time-of-possession advantages or seal victories with consistent late-game first downs.
No one thing was going to magically fix those issues. Fortunately for Dallas, there were a number of small adjustments and changes they were able to make coming into Sunday's matchup with the Giants in order to spark some life into the running game.
The most clear tactical change came in the form of a lineup adjustment to the starting offensive line. Connor Williams was inserted back in as the starting left guard for Connor McGovern, who had started the previous four games at left guard. Williams, who started the season, had previously been benched because of a streak of committing numerous penalties. McGovern ultimately struggled at times in his four starts, however, and the team decided they needed the athleticism of Williams back in the lineup.
"It was very exciting to get back," Williams said. "First game back there's obviously nerves, jitters, rust you need to knock off."
The impact that Williams made seemed clear from the first few drives when the Cowboys ran the ball to the left side with success numerous times. In the first quarter Ezekiel Elliott, who claims he is getting healthier every week while trying to recover from a lingering knee issue without missing games, rushed through the middle of the Giants' defense for a 13-yard touchdown.
Elliott finished the game with 52 yards on 16 carries.
Reinserting Williams back into the starting lineup had another domino effect that allowed McGovern to still be a factor in the game. Relieved of his guard duties, he was able to slide over to playing fullback for select plays in what has been referred to as a "Mac package."
On McGovern's first play at fullback he helped pave the way for a seven-yard run by Elliott. But the real excitement came in the third quarter when the team utilized the same formation but ran a play-action pass. It was clear that Dak Prescott looked in McGovern's direction immediately, but the defense converged on the unlikely receiver.
"I think [the defense] respected my versatility and athleticism a little bit," McGovern joked after the game.
With the defense focused on McGovern, it left tight end Dalton Schultz open for the touchdown reception.
It would have been a fitting moment for McGovern, who was in total support of Williams taking his spot in the starting lineup.
"He was my biggest supporter," McGovern said of Williams. "I'm his biggest supporter. I'm just happy the O-line is back together."
Williams echoed those same sentiments about his fellow Connor after the game.
"We're very close," Williams said of McGovern. "I commend him for how he's played at left guard. He did great, and he does great at fullback, he does great wherever he's needed. The way he approaches it, I can't speak enough to it."
All of this was bolstered by the return of Tony Pollard, who will likely be managing a foot issue for at least the next few weeks, but said that weekly management will keep him ready for game days. His typical explosiveness was on display as he rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries.
With the offensive line shift and the return of the Cowboys' two-headed monster at running back, the team's rushing attack looked better than it had in weeks against the Giants. According to Elliott, though, Sunday's performance was just a progression towards what they need to become by the postseason.
"We were running the ball well today in the first half," Elliott said. "We got that lead. As an offense we need to figure out how to close the game out. That's our next step."