NOTES: Cowboys’ Steele lost for season

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13661400ci) Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Terence Steele (78) is slow to get up during an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Arlington, Texas Texans Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 11 Dec 2022

NOTES: Cowboys’ Steele lost for season

When the Cowboys trainers pulled Terence Steele from the AT&T Stadium turf just before halftime on Sunday, they didn’t even help him back to the team’s sideline.

No, the trio headed straight to the locker room, which was not a good sign for one of the most durable players on the offense this season.

Monday morning the Cowboys got the news they feared, Steele would be lost for the rest of the season.

Steele tore the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when bull rushed back into the lap of quarterback Dak Prescott on a second down and 10 from Houston 15 just seconds before halftime.

Steele was replaced by Josh Ball for 26 plays before he gave way to Jason Peters for the final 12 offensive snaps – 11 of which came on the game-winning drive.

Peters, who hadn’t played right tackle in his now 18-year NFL career, and Ball look to be the best options to start going forward, even with left tackle Tyron Smith back practicing with the team. Smith, whose 21-day practice window opened last Tuesday, could be ready to return from his preseason injury this week or next.

“We will work the rotation this week,” McCarthy said. “I thought Josh Ball had some good snaps … and then Jason came in for the two-minute drill. It obviously worked out well for us. I thought both those guys played well with their opportunities.”

Tyron Smith’s return to left tackle would move Tyler Smith, who has 849 snaps at left tackle this season, to left guard, where he spent all of training camp preparing to play this season. Connor McGovern would return to his reserve role, while center and right guard will remain unchanged with Tyler Biadasz and Zack Martin.

But for Steele, who was undrafted out of Texas Tech, next will be surgery, and then he will turn his sights toward rehab and being ready to go for training camp in July.

Steele, who earned the starting right tackle job in training camp after the Cowboys chose not to re-sign La’el Collins, finishes his season playing 818 of a possible 826 snaps this season.

Cowboys sign WR

While all the talk and hype surrounding the visit of Odell Beckham Jr., the Cowboys went in a different direction on Monday, signing former All-Pro T.Y. Hilton.

“T. Y. is in today,” McCarthy said. “It is a great addition. Obviously, he has been working all year. He’s in great shape medically, so he had the workout. … The biggest thing for him will be the language, which it always is, but we’ll get him out there Wednesday and get him acclimated.”

Hilton, who hasn’t played a down in 2022, played all 10 of his seasons in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, where he finished with 631 catches for 9,691 yards and 53 touchdowns.

In his last season in Indy, Hilton played in just 10 games because of injury. He put up a career low in catches with 23, yards with 331, and touchdowns with three.

Hilton could be available for the Cowboys on Sunday in Jacksonville.

“The timing was right. He’s ready to go. He’s an excellent addition, especially this time of year. I’ve never had the experience of adding the quality of player as T.Y. is to your roster in December. That’s very unique.”

Illness can’t keep LVE down

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, fighting the flu for most of the week, led the Cowboys in tackles on Sunday with 14. That was six more than nickel back DaRon Bland, who was second on the team.

“He played his tail off, especially with what he has been through over the last four or five days,” McCarthy said. “What a great performance.”

His tackle total was a season high and just one off his career high of 15, set during his rookie season of 2018 against Tampa Bay.

Sunday was just another excellent game from Vander Esch, who is quietly having a solid season. He is currently second on the team in solo tackles with 56 and first in combined tackles with 90, just ahead of safety Donovan Wilson.

“I can’t say enough about Leighton,” McCarthy said. “If you look at what is going on in our society, and particularly our league, you have guys that are going in and out. Leighton was sick all week. And really, until (Sunday), I wasn’t sure he was going to play. For him to go out and perform at that level just speaks volumes.”

LVE is averaging 57 snaps a game this season, good for fourth on the team’s defense. He has yet to miss a start with injury, something that has plagued him for several seasons.

Another two TD day for TP

For the fourth time this season, Cowboys running back Tony Pollard scored two touchdowns.

Pollard, who had just 62 total yards in the win, scored on an 11-yard run to open the scoring on the Cowboys first drive of the game.

He then added his second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard pass from Dak Prescott in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a brief 14-10 lead.

“I had a swing route,” Pollard said. “Dak went through his reads and came down to me once he seen nothing was open. I seen the guy in front of me and just tried to beat him to the edge. I felt him grab me, but I let his momentum take him so he would miss the tackle and I tiptoed in.”

No multiple-touchdown game has been the same for Pollard this season, who has 12 total touchdowns. He rushed for three scores in the Cowboys’ Week 8 win over Chicago. He followed that up with a pair of TD receptions in a Week 11 win over Minnesota, then two more rushing touchdowns in the Week 13 win over Indianapolis. Before scoring on the ground and through the air against the Texans.

“Being in the system. Being here, getting my feet under me, knowing things, and knowing what I have to do,” Pollard said when asked about why he is having success this season. “Not really out there thinking and just being able to get into a rhythm. Being more involved in the offense. It just shows.”

It is Pollard’s fifth multi-touchdown game of his four-year career.

Sackless day for defense

For the first time this season, the Cowboys defense failed to get to the quarterback.

Coming into the game leading the NFL in sacks with 48, the Cowboys had at least two in every game this season.

And going up against Davis Mills and a Texans team that had given up 33 sacks this season, it seemed inevitable that the Cowboys pass rushers would get home.

But it never came to be, as the Texans offense kept the Cowboys front six guessing all afternoon with a perfect mix of run and pass.

When the Texans did drop back to pass, both Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel got the ball out quickly on short passes that took advantage of the Cowboys aggressive rush.

“Everything was run, screen,” Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said about how the Texans attacked the Cowboys defense. “If it was pass, it was quick. It’s a tough way to play.”

By getting blanked, the Cowboys fell to second in the NFL in sacks behind Philadelphia, who had seven on Sunday against the New York Giants to get to 49 through 13 games.

Big play day for offense

The Cowboys used 13 plays of 10 yards or more on Sunday to beat the Texans, including four on the final drive that produced the game-winning touchdown.

That is gaining double-digit yards on over 20% of the 64 plays the Cowboys offense ran in the victory.

While 10 of the plays came in the passing game, the Cowboys did get three big runs in the ground attack. During the first drive, Ezekiel Elliott broke off a 25-yard run that would end up being the longest dash of the game for the Cowboys. Just a few plays later, the third-longest run of the game came when Tony Pollard scored around right end from 11 yards out. Pollard added an 18-yard run to the mix in the second quarter.

All the other plays came through the air, including catches of 22, 21, 18, and 13 yards by tight end Dalton Schultz. Wide receivers Noah Brown (51, 18), Michael Gallup (24, 16), and CeeDee Lamb (13) also got in on the big-play act.

Double-digit win McCarthy

For the 10th time in 16 years as a head coach, Mike McCarthy has led a team to 10 wins.

The Cowboys reached the double-digit mark in wins in Sunday’s 27-23 escape, the second time McCarthy has done it with the Cowboys in three seasons. Last year he led Dallas to 12 wins.

“I am certainly proud of the job he has done,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “Never any more proud than the way we came back in last seconds out there (Sunday afternoon). … It is great to have these back-to-back 10 wins, and Coach McCarthy has everything to do with that. So, I’m proud for him.”

With four games left, the Cowboys have a chance to get to 14 wins, which would be the second most for a McCarthy-coached team. He led the 2011 Packers to a 15-1 record.

McCarthy’s overall record as a head coach is now 153-95, while going 28-18 as the Cowboys coach with still a month to go in his third season in Dallas.

The win over Houston also moves him past Sean Payton and into 22nd on the NFL’s all-time regular season wins list for a head coach. He is now fifth among active coaches on the list, behind only Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, and Pete Carroll.

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