The Dallas Cowboys hosted the Buffalo Bills in their annual Thanksgiving Day game, and the visiting team won in decisive fashion. After Buffalo’s 26-15 victory, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Cowboys, who still lead the NFC East in spite of their 6-6 overall record.
The Bills, on the other hand, look like a team on the cusp of competing for more than just a playoff berth. At 9-3, they have another chance to prove their mettle against the red-hot Baltimore Ravens this week. If they are going to win that game, they’ll need to do what they did this past week—contain their opponent’s better players while taking advantage of positive situations on their own.
Which Cowboys performed well among our players to watch? From a statistical standpoint, nearly all of them; however, they were unable to outpace Buffalo where it matters most: on the scoreboard.
QB Dak Prescott
The Dallas quarterback entered the game leading the league in passing yards, and he’ll probably exit this week still in the lead, as he managed to throw for more yards than anyone has against Buffalo since Jameis Winston threw for 384 yards in Week 7 of the 2017 season. Prescott totaled 355 yards passing on 49 attempts, completing 32 passes and throwing for two touchdowns. Prescott also lost a fumble when defensive tackle Ed Oliver strip-sacked him, and Star Lotulelei hauled in his first career interception when Prescott hit him right in the breadbasket on a screen pass intended for Tony Pollard. While Dak’s overall numbers look great, he really did most of his damage on three possessions. On the first drive of the game, Prescott completed 4-of-4 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown to tight end Jason Witten. On the Cowboys’ last drive before halftime, Prescott completed 6-of-8 passes for 47 yards, which set up a blocked field goal from Brett Maher. On the Cowboys’ final scoring drive, which began at the 5:28 mark of the fourth quarter with Buffalo ahead 26-7, Prescott completed 5-of-5 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, adding a two-point conversion pass to Witten. So, on those three drives, Prescott was 15-of-17 for 168 yards and two touchdowns. On every other drive combined, he completed 17-of-32 passes for 187 with a lost fumble and an interception. Prescott’s overall line looks great, but it was boosted significantly by two drives where Buffalo played a soft zone. On the whole, the Bills were able to do what they wanted against Dak.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
It was mentioned by the (nauseatingly pro-Dallas) CBS booth of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, but it’s worth repeating here: Elliott, by far the best offensive player for the Cowboys, had his last rushing attempt with 9:31 remaining in the third quarter. At the time, Buffalo was ahead 16-7. After Dallas ended that drive with a missed field goal, Buffalo marched down the field and scored a touchdown, making it 23-7. Elliott probably should have seen more touches, yet he became an afterthought in the game plan from there, as the Cowboys did not call another running play. In all, Elliott’s numbers were phenomenal. He had 12 carries for 71 yards, adding seven receptions on ten targets for 66 more yards. The game script took him away as a focal point of the Cowboys’ offense, but that really shouldn’t have happened.
WR Amari Cooper
After Stephon Gilmore shut him out last Sunday, it was obvious that Dallas would make a concerted effort to feed Cooper the ball. Once Bill Vinovich and his crew started throwing illegal contract flags against Tre’Davious White, it made Cooper’s job a bit easier. The Cowboys targeted Cooper 11 times, and he responded with a big day, hauling in eight passes for 85 yards. Most of his damage came in the first half, as Cooper went into halftime with six catches and 69 receiving yards. He left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a helmet to the knee, but he was able to return to action.
DE Robert Quinn
The veteran pass rusher played on 73% of the defensive snaps for Dallas, yet you won’t find his name anywhere on the stats sheet other than the playing time section. That’s right, Buffalo held Quinn to a goose egg—no tackles, no pressures, no quarterback hits, nothing—in what was a solid overall effort from the offensive line. Quinn’s teammate DeMarcus Lawrence had three tackles and half a sack, and fellow defensive end Michael Bennett managed five tackles, including one for loss. However, Quinn was a total non-factor.
LB Jaylon Smith
The athletic linebacker was all over the field on Sunday, making a game-high 14 tackles on the afternoon. None of those tackles came behind the line of scrimmage, and eight of them were assists, but there was no denying Smith’s ability on Thursday. He was among the Dallas defenders badly fooled on John Brown’s touchdown pass, and given his proximity to running back Devin Singletary at the beginning of the play (and fellow linebacker Sean Lee’s blitz fake), I’m assuming that Singletary was technically Smith’s responsibility (although cornerback Jourdan Lewis may have been the culprit, as well).