The Dallas Cowboys almost shocked the NFL world Sunday.
Dallas not only hung with, but led the Pittsburgh Steelers for a majority of the Week 9 clash at AT&T Stadium. The 2-7 Cowboys were 13.5-point underdogs entering the clash against the league’s only unbeaten team before falling in a 24-19 defeat.
Here’s a few takeaways from the contest:
— Quarterback play was better.
Cowboy fans have to be wondering why Sunday was the first time they were seeing signal-caller Garrett Gilbert. Now, obviously, we’re not going to act like Gilbert should have been starting over Dak Prescott, that’s asinine. But the conversation could be had regarding with Andy Dalton, and there’s absolutely no way Ben DiNucci, the team’s Week 8 starter, should have been above Gilbert on the depth chart based on what we saw Sunday. That would’ve meant he was on the field both Week 7 and Week 8.
Gilbert finished 21-for-38, throwing for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The 2014 sixth-round pick out of SMU did so while going up against arguably the league’s best defense in his first-ever NFL start (seven games).
Of course, Gilbert didn’t play mistake-free football. His biggest mistake — a red zone interception in the second half — kept crucial points off the board. But he still made throws. And he, at times, showed the awareness to escape the pocket and pick up needed yards with his feet. The Cowboys’ quarterback play had been bad since the injury to Prescott, but Sunday was a step in the right direction. In all likelihood Gilbert will revert to Dalton’s backup moving forward this season.
— Cowboys did their best not to lose, rather than win.
Tony Romo noted it at the time, and again when the Steelers were wrapping up the win. The Cowboys decision to kick a field goal rather than than go for it on fourth-and-inches in the third quarter was a crucial decision. Kicker Greg Zuerlein, who kicked four field goals for the offense, converted a 39-yarder to put the Cowboys up 19-9 with 2:13 left in the third.
For a 2-6 team there, doing their best to claim a shocking upset, the Cowboys played it too safe. They did their best not to lose rather than going for the kill shot. Perhaps converting on fourth-and-inches leads to a touchdown there, and then Dallas really puts itself in the driver’s seat with just 15 minutes left.
— Defense is improving?
Dallas was historically bad defensively to start the season, and it made us question if coordinator Mike Nolan really deserved to keep his job. The last few weeks, though, have looked better. Dallas forced four turnovers against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8, for what it’s worth.
They responded by holding the Steelers to just 2.6-yards-per-rush. Pittsburgh also should have had just seven first-half points, but a costly turnover on the Dallas offense led to Pittsburgh field goal four plays later. It’s been those types of turnovers, giving opponents a short field, which have had major implications throughout the season.
The 2-7 Cowboys now enter their bye week with the Minnesota Vikings on tap for Week 11.