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The Cowboys won ugly against the Seahawks — and that’s exactly how they can keep winning

Dallas controls time of possession, and doesn’t give up much on defense. That’s a winning blueprint in the playoffs.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys don’t have a high-flying offense to rival the Kansas City Chiefs or Los Angeles Rams. But for the last two months, the Cowboys have shown they’re able to drag teams into messy, ugly games and consistently come out on top.

It won the Cowboys the NFC East, and on Saturday night it got them their first playoff victory in four years with a 24-22 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Neither team scored a touchdown until Dak Prescott found Michael Gallup for an 11-yard score in the final minute of the first half. And while the Seahawks made the game look close with a touchdown with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter, the reality was that the Cowboys defense made life miserable for Seattle for most of the night.

Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Russell Wilson all combined for 73 rushing yards on 24 attempts against the Dallas defense. Ezekiel Elliott had much more success with 137 rushing yards on 26 attempts — the most any player has had against the Seahawks this season:

The Cowboys will travel to play the No. 2-seeded Rams the Divisional Round. But they have a formula for success that could provide trouble for LA.

Dallas runs the ball and stops the run

It’s football 101 and the Cowboys usually do it well. In addition to Elliott nearly doubling up the production of the entire Seahawks rushing attack, Dallas also got 29 rushing yards out of Dak Prescott.

That included a clutch 16-yard run by Prescott on third down that proved to be the nail in the Seahawks’ coffin:

The final tally was 164 rushing yards for the Cowboys — their most in a game since Week 10.

Dallas controlled the game on the ground, and shut down the Seahawks’ attempt to establish the run. The result was 34:50 of possession for the Cowboys, and just 25:10 for Seattle.

That’s a surprising stat for the Seahawks, who averaged 31:28 per game thanks to a six-offensive lineman set that bullied defenses in the latter half of the season. It didn’t have success against the stout Dallas defense.

The Cowboys’ domination in time of possession probably would’ve been enough for a blowout if Prescott hadn’t thrown an interception in the red zone, and if the Seahawks weren’t able to score a touchdown in the final minutes.

If Dallas can continue to control the line of scrimmage and rack up time on offense, they’ll be difficult for any team to beat.

Dak Prescott only needs to make a few great plays per game

The Cowboys’ third-year quarterback finished Saturday with 226 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His 83.7 passer rating isn’t stellar, but it’s good enough — so long as he makes a few great plays to get points on the board.

His third-down run in the fourth quarter was one of those plays. So was his perfect throw to Gallup for the first touchdown of the night:

The Dallas offense goes through Elliott, and the Cowboys are usually in good shape when Prescott does enough to move the chains and avoids turnovers. He threw one interception against the Seahawks, but it didn’t prove costly.

Prescott doesn’t have to do much. But when he can make just a few great plays, the Cowboys are hard to stop.

No team is immune to getting dragged into an ugly game

The Rams averaged 32.9 points per game during the 2018 season, so the Cowboys are going to be tasked with slowing down a prolific offense. That’s something they’ve already proven they can do, though.

In Week 13, the Cowboys beat the Saints, 13-10, by following the exact formula that worked against the Seahawks.

Dallas leaned on the rushing attack of Elliott, had nearly 37 minutes of possession, and held New Orleans to 176 yards of total offense. The Saints finished the season averaging 31.5 points per game.

The Cowboys didn’t get a regular season matchup with the Rams, but the Chicago Bears provided the proof that Sean McVay, Jared Goff, and Todd Gurley are susceptible to an ugly game too. In Week 14, the Bears beat the Rams, 15-6, by rushing for 194 yards and holding Los Angeles to 214 yards of total offense.

Offense has been king for most of the 2018 season, but the Cowboys are well positioned to get to the NFC Championship by proving that defense and a grinding offense is still a winning blueprint — especially in January.