There are lots of ways to slice this game, one in which the Cowboys had a shot to win in the fourth quarter, only to lose 41-16 at AT&T Stadium.
Here are some instant takeaways from Thursday's game with Washington.
The coaching staff dropped the ball.
The No.1 job of the coaching staff is to put together a game plan that reduces the odds of losing the game. Mike McCarthy and his assistant failed miserably in this area against the Washington Football Team with a series of poor play calls and ill-timed gambles that gift-wrapped a victory to their division rival. From a questionable passing play on a fourth-and-inches situation to an ill-fated reverse pass option play by CeeDee Lamb in the tight red area to a ridiculous fake punt attempt in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys made a series of reckless decisions that undermined the team's chances to take the division lead. Although it is easy to second-guess the coaching decisions after witnessing the poor results, the ultra-aggressive approach against a team with a punchless offense will go down as one of the worst game plans in team history.
Injuries cripple the offensive line.
The Cowboys' reshuffled offensive line suffered a pair of major losses in the opening quarter when Cam Erving and Zach Martin limped to the sideline with serious injuries. The loss of the veteran bookends appeared to prompt Kellen Moore to alter his original game plan due to concerns regarding the replacements' abilities to hold up against the vaunted WFT defensive line. Despite decent play from Terence Steele and Brandon Knight for most of the night, the loss of Erving and Martin torpedoed the Cowboys' chances of controlling the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front.
Amari Cooper is still No.1.
Despite the splash plays from Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb this season, there no disputing Cooper's status as the Cowboys' No.1 receiver. The veteran pass-catcher reaffirmed his spot with a strong performance against the WFT. Cooper produced a six-catch, 112-yard effort that featured a spectacular 54-yard reception in which he blew past Ron Darby on a go-route. In addition, he works over the WFT secondary on a handful of underneath routes that showcased his stop-start quickness and burst. Cooper consistently worked free from man coverage with ease while also finding soft spots in the WFT zone. Against the No.1 ranked pass defense in the NFL, the Cowboys' WR1 came up big and reminded the football that he is still one of the premier receivers in the game.
Zeke lets the offense down.
One play never decides a game but it is impossible to ignore the impact of Elliott's fumble on the Cowboys' second-half performance. After opening the third quarter with the ball, the Cowboys put the ball in the hands of their top offensive playmaker for a couple of runs that netted nine yards and appeared to put the team in a manageable third-and-short situation. However, the second rushing attempt ended with an unforced fumble from Elliott that was spotted in a booth review after the officiating crew ruled the two-time NFL rushing champion down by contact on the field. The reversal handed WFT the ball on the Cowboys' 33-yard line and set them up for a field goal that stretched their halftime lead from three to seven early in the third quarter. Considering how challenging it has been for the Cowboys to score points, the seven-point deficit took the offense out of its comfort zone.
Andy Dalton played well enough to earn a win.
The veteran passer continues to settle in as the Cowboys' QB1. Dalton completed 25 of 35 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He threw the ball with pinpoint accuracy for most of the night and managed the game effectively for three-plus quarters. Although the veteran misfired on a few throws, Dalton had the Cowboys in a position to win the game until a series of questionable gambles, play calls, and drops (see CeeDee Lamb's goal-line drop) undermined his effort. If the veteran received a little more support from the coaching staff (game management) and his supporting cast, his effort should've been rewarded with a W.
Welcome to The Antonio Gibson Show.
Jerry Jones should've treated every Cowboys' defender with complimentary popcorn and a soda based on Gibson's sensational effort on Thanksgiving Day. The rookie put on a show amassing 136 scrimmage yards on 25 touches with three touchdowns against the Cowboys. Gibson gutted the defense with patient, hard-hitting runs between the tackles and quick sprints around the corner. He posted his second 100-yard game of the season (both against the Cowboys) and displayed the combination of speed, quickness, and burst that makes defensive coordinators stay up late at night craft game plans. In addition, Gibson's soft hands and exceptional receiving skills make him a difficult matchup in the passing game.
WFT confuses the defense with smoke and mirrors.
Credit WFT offensive coordinator Scott Turner for digging into his bag to befuddle the Cowboys with an assortment of shifts, motions, tricks, and gadgets. The Football Team successfully executed reverses, throwback passes, hidden handoffs, and exotic zone-read plays against the Cowboys. In addition, Turner featured a variety of college-like pre-snap motions and misdirection runs that exploited hesitant defenders at the point of attack. The smoke and mirror game plan helped the WFT struggling offense put up 338 yards of offense while averaging 5.1 yards per play.
Randy Gregory shows up and shows out.
The veteran defender officially shook off the rust from his extended layoff with a two-sack performance against the Washington Football Team. Gregory's energy, athleticism, and instincts showed up on each of his sack efforts as he found a way to sift through traffic on the way to the quarterback. The long, rangy rusher perfectly executed the inside loop on a couple of DE-DT stunts to split the A gap and corral Alex Smith. The combination of play call and Gregory's athleticism should encourage Mike Nolan to utilize more stunts and games at the line of scrimmage.
The injury-ravaged secondary is unable to hold up under pressure.
Injuries to Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs have forced the Cowboys to elevate former practice squad members to the starting lineup. Rashard Robinson took his turn on the hot corner and it didn't go well. The fourth-year pro was overwhelmed by the speed and skill of the WFT WR corps, leading him to grab and hold at every turn. He handed WFT a first down with an aggressive defensive holding penalty on Steve Sims. Robinson followed up with miscue with a lackluster effort on a running play that resulted in Gibson scooting around the corner the WFT's first score. Considering Robinson's issues and the spotty coverage displayed by others in the backend, the Cowboys' lack of depth and talent due to injuries is a huge concern going forward
The Cowboys need to work on the Pick-6 drill.
Jaylon Smith's interception return should've resulted in a Pick-6 if LVE picked off Terry McLaurin immediately after the turnover. The intended target should be the first offensive player targeted by the defense as they set up a convoy between the numbers and the sideline. LVE had a shot to take out McLaurin on the return but failed to knock him off of his route and the speedy playmaker eventually ran down Smith at the four-yard line. With the WFT defense eventually forcing a field goal, the failed execution of the interception drill cost the Cowboys four points and changed the way the game played out in the fourth quarter.