ESCAPE ARTISTS: 5 observations from the Cowboys’ win over Houston

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13661400d) Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws an interception under pressure from Houston Texans linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (45) during the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas Texans Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 11 Dec 2022

ESCAPE ARTISTS: 5 observations from the Cowboys’ win over Houston

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott led a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the game to pull out a 27-23 win for the Cowboys (10-3) over Houston (1-11-1) on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

Dak delivers late

After having a subpar game through 56 minutes, Dak Prescott found a way to get the Cowboys the score they needed to tie the game late in regulation.

Prescott completed 7-of-8 throws for 79 yards while also adding 15 yards rushing on that final drive of the game that covered 98 yards and ended with an Ezekiel Elliott 2-yard run.

It was not his best game, but it was good enough. Prescott completed 24-of-39 passes for 284 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. One of the interceptions turned into a 28-yard touchdown pass two plays later when Jeff Driskel connected with Amari Rodgers, while the second was cleaned up by the defense on a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter.

Prescott finished with a 70.9 quarterback rating, his worst game since returning to the lineup in Week 6 against Detroit.

Unbalanced offense

The Cowboys, who have said for weeks that they are a run first team, went pass heavy against the Texans and it almost cost them the game on Sunday.

Dallas did have 127 yards rushing, but only called 28 running plays of the 70 offensive plays called in the game.

The Cowboys never trailed by more than one score in the game, so there was no need to abandon the run early in the game.

Even before trailing, the Cowboys were pass-heavy on a day they should have been running the football against the NFL’s worst run defense. The Texans were giving up almost 170 yards per game on the ground this season and held Dallas to 43 yards under that average. Despite the Cowboys averaging over four yards per rush.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had only called 21 run plays to 30 passes. On those carries, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard were averaging more than 4.5 yards per rush.

The run game was working from the opening drive, where Elliott carried it three times for 33 yards, and Pollard added 22 yards on two carries, including an 11-yard TD run.

The two combined for just six more carries in the first half, as Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore fell in love with a struggling passing game, that had just three plays of more than 13 yards in the opening 30 minutes.

The duo ended the first half with 72 yards on 11 carries.

Defense struggles

When they had to make a play late, the Cowboys’ defense finally showed up.

For the first 56-plus minutes of the game, they were outplayed by the Texans’ offense. But on that fourth down and goal from the Dallas 3, the defense got penetration and stopped Houston running back Dameon Pierce for a 1-yard gain.

That gave the ball back to the offense, which produced a 98-yard touchdown drive for the victory.

But it was not a complete game for the defense.

The Cowboys allowed Houston to rack up 327 yards to total offense, nearly 20 yards more than Dallas is allowing per game, and almost 50 yards more than the Texans’ offense is averaging this season.

The Cowboys, who came in leading the league with 48 sacks, did not record one against Davis Mills or Jeff Driskel. It is the first time this season the Cowboys have not had at least two sacks in a game.

With no pressure on Mills or Driskel, the Houston QB duo accounted for 20 completions for 213 yards and the one touchdown. Driskel also added seven carries for 36 yards in the loss.

The Texans used seven runners to rack up 114 yards rushing but were led by running back Dameon Pierce with 78 yards on 22 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run.

But the Dallas defense rose to the occasion when they absolutely had to, and it saved the game and kept alive a chance at the NFC East title.

Injury bug bites

The Cowboys lost three significant contributors by halftime.

Right tackle Terence Steele went down late in the first half with a knee injury, tight end Jake Ferguson left the game during the second quarter with an apparent head injury, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was ruled out with a leg injury.

Steele, who came into the game having taken 99% of the snaps this season, was replaced by Josh Ball. In Ball’s first series, the Cowboys were stopped on a fourth-and-goal run from the Houston 1-yard line.

Ferguson’s absence upped the snap counts for Peyton Hendershot and Sean McKeon.

Hankins, acquired from Las Vegas just before the trade deadline to help shore up the run defense, also went down in the second quarter. The Texans had 181 yards rushing in the first half.

Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs went to the locker room late in the second quarter with an injured hand. That left the Cowboys with rookie DaRon Bland and two second-year corners in Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright manning the defensive backfield on the Texans’ last series of the first half. But it was a three-and-out sequence for Houston that didn’t hurt the Cowboys.

Diggs returned to start the third quarter and played the remainder of the game.

Turnovers keep it close

The Cowboys turned it over three times but were able to survive with the win at home on Sunday.

After taking an early lead, the Cowboys turned the ball over for the first time. The Cowboys forced Houston to punt on its first drive, but KaVontae Turpin dropped the kick, and the Texans were in business deep in Cowboys territory. Six plays later, the game was tied, 7-7.

The second turnover came with the Cowboys back in front at 14-10 and quarterback Dak Prescott firing away. Prescott’s throw, intended for Noah Brown, sailed and ticked off Noah Brown’s fingertips and high into the air for an easy interception by Tremon Smith. Two plays later, Houston was back in front on a Jeff Driskel 27-yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers.

After getting a turnover on the Texans’ first drive of the third quarter, the Cowboys looked to be going in for the go-ahead touchdown. But Ezekiel Elliott lost two yards on fourth and goal at the Houston 1 to turn it over on downs. This time, the Texans drove 63 yards on 10 plays, and Ka’imi Fairbairn hit a 54-yard field goal.

Prescott added a second interception late in the game, but the defense got a goal-line stand to keep Dallas in the game ahead of the final-drive touchdown.

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