Here are my 10 quick points from the Cowboys' 30-7 win over the Bengals:
A win is a win.
Say what you want about the opponent, the Cowboys needed a win to sustain their playoff dreams and breathe some life into Mike McCarthy's program. Sure, the Bengals were a two-win team but the Cowboys limped into the game with backups slotted into key spots on both sides of the ball. With morale and confidence at an all-time low following a disappointing effort against the Ravens, the Cowboys put together a solid 60-minute effort that featured more hustle, effort, and playmaking production than we've seen from the unit. Considering how desperate the Cowboys were for a win, the steady performance from the team could lead to better play down the stretch.
Andy Dalton walks away as the Homecoming King.
The Cowboys' substitute QB1 carried a lot of emotions into this matchup against his former team after being dismissed following a 10-year run. Dalton kept his composure during a solid performance in which he completed 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards with a pair of scores. He efficiently distributed the ball to seven different pass catchers while avoiding a major mistake against an overmatched Bengals' defense. With the Cowboys' defense playing well, the "play it safe" approach helped his squad earn their fourth win of the season.
Tony Pollard continues to shine as a playmaker.
The second-year pro has started to produce a big play a week as a dynamic runner-returner for the Cowboys. Pollard popped a 60-yard kick return in the third quarter to set up a field goal. It is his third 60-plus yard kick return of the season and his second one in the past two games. With the Cowboys in desperate need of explosive plays to spark an inconsistent offense, Pollard's spectacular return helped put some points on the board to start the second half.
Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore must fix the Cowboys' red zone woes.
The Cowboys' red zone woes continue to plague the offense with the unit repeatedly sputtering inside the 20-yard line. The field goal parade didn't hurt the team against the Bengals but it could impact their ability to make a playoff push with points coveted at a premium in their upcoming "win or go home" games.
Dalton Schultz is quietly becoming a key part of the passing game.
One of the biggest developments of the 2020 season has been the emergence of Schultz as a credible threat in the passing game. The third-year pro is the team's third-leading receiver (48 catches) as a designated chain mover. Schultz is a natural post-up player with the size, length, and athleticism to win against man coverage while also flashing instincts and awareness to identify and exploit voids against zone. As the Stanford product becomes more effective as a blocker, the Cowboys could have a dangerous 1-2 punch at the position in 2021 when Blake Jarwin returns.
Mike Nolan's unit finally comes up with turnovers.
Despite placing a greater emphasis on generating turnovers this season, the Cowboys ranked near the bottom of the league takeaways (10) prior to the Week 14 contest. The defense's fortunes changed with a hat trick in the first quarter on a trio of forced fumbles by the Cowboys' ball hunting defenders. Aldon Smith's scoop-and-score return was the highlight of the trifecta but each of the fumbles resulted in a score and gave the Cowboys the early cushioned needed to waltz to a victory over the Bengals.
The defense gets back to basics with an emphasis on effort and tackling.
It didn't take long to notice the increased effort and attention to detail from the defense against the Bengals. The unit played like a bunch of players running around with their hair on fire as they pursued the ball with reckless abandon. On most plays, the Cowboys finished with 11 defenders in close proximity to the ball carrier with each defender exerting maximum effort to get to the ball. In addition, the Cowboys took proper pursuit angles and kept ball carriers leveraged on the correct shoulders when gang tackling. The focus on fundamentals led to a better overall effort and winning performance from the Cowboys' defense.
Tyrone Crawford joins the party.
The veteran defensive tackle delivered his best performance of the season with a two-sack effort against the Bengals. The hard-working interior defender outworked blockers on the way to knocking down Brandon Allen multiple times in the pocket. Although Crawford had been a non-factor for most of the season, the breakthrough performance gave the Cowboys a much-needed spark on the frontline.
The backup cornerbacks hold their own on the island.
It is hard to play with substitute cornerbacks in the lineup in a pass-happy league. That's why the Cowboys' coaching staff should be encouraged by the efforts of a patchwork secondary (Saivion Smith, Rashard Robinson, Deante Burton, Chris Westry, and Jourdan Lewis) against the Bengals. The backups kept the ball in front of them and were content to "rally and tackle" on underneath throws. Sure, the Bengals are a high-powered offensive unit but the solid performance was a step in the right direction for a defense that's underachieved for most of the season.
Greg Zuerlein gets back on track.
The veteran kicker bounced back from a disappointing effort against the Ravens to post a perfect score against the Bengals. Zuerlein nailed each of his field-goal attempts (3 of 3) and extra points (3 of 3) while displaying the poise and composure needed to make pressure kicks. The solid performance should boost the veteran's confidence and give the Cowboys a chance to make a run at the division title.