Dallas Cowboys

Wearing down opponents in the second half? Dallas Cowboys looking like old selves

Cowboys running back Alfred Morris, above, has played well during the absence of Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys running back Alfred Morris, above, has played well during the absence of Ezekiel Elliott. dkent@star-telegram.com

The Dallas Cowboys have looked like their 2016 selves the past couple of games.

They’ve established the run game and wore opposing teams down to pull away late. The latest example came Sunday afternoon when they scored 20 unanswered in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 30-10 victory over the New York Giants.

The Cowboys have outscored their last two opponents by a combined 41-7 in the second half — all the points have come in the fourth quarter. In the three-game losing skid last month, opponents outscored the Cowboys 72-6 in the second half.

Some might describe Sunday’s victory as an “ugly win,” particularly with how the first three quarters went, but the Cowboys aren’t in position to complain.

“We’ll take any win. I don’t care what it looks like,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said, grinning. “We’ll take a win any way we can get it. Our defense really played great in the second half, held them to no scores, and we were able to just grind it out and get some late ones and put this thing away.”

Grinding it out is what this Cowboys team has been known for in recent years. They’ve built one of the top offensive lines in the league and relied on the running game to set the tone.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott needed a few games to hit his stride early on this season, and the same can be said for the running backs who are filling in for the now suspended Elliott.

The Cowboys’ running numbers weren’t terrible during the three-game losing streak last month, but they certainly weren’t close to what the run game has produced the past two games.

Alfred Morris had one of the best days in his career against the Washington Redskins, and Rod Smith had a career day against the Giants in the passing and running game.

Granted, the Redskins and Giants aren’t playoff-caliber teams, but the Cowboys deserve credit for wearing them down by the fourth quarter.

“No doubt we wore them down. That’s just a testament to us as a team,” right tackle La’el Collins said. “We continue to get better. There are still things we’ve got to clean up. We’re striving for greatness.”

For now, the Cowboys are striving just to keep themselves on the fringe of contender status. They still have slim odds of making the playoffs, but they’re not out of the mix quite yet.

They have just one more game this Sunday in Oakland to get through before Elliott returns. That will be a boost to a team that is starting to reestablish itself as a power offense.

“That’s one of the things we try to do, we try to be a physical football team, running the football,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan’s done a great job being persistent with the running game throughout. Typically, the runs get bigger and better as the game goes on if you have that persistence.”

The highlight of the game for the Cowboys were three passing plays that went 50 yards or longer, but the running game helped set those up.

Smith had a pair of 15-yard runs in the fourth quarter, including one for a touchdown that put the game well out of reach. Morris had a couple nice runs, too, including a 37-yarder that was called back because of a holding penalty on Jason Witten.

All in all, though, the Cowboys looked like their old selves.

“It takes everybody. We talk about it all the time as an offense,” Witten said. “You never know when your number is going to get called. … Wasn’t perfect, we can clean it up, but it is good enough to keep our playoff hopes alive.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

Cowboys at Raiders

7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5

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