Ten in a row! The rookies Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott are leading the Dallas Cowboys into uncharted territory, turning the tables on a Washington team that beat Dallas on Thanksgiving in 2012 behind their own rookie quarterback and running back.
Dak and Zeke didn’t have the best stats this week. Their record-tying string of eight straight games of 400 yards on offense came to an end, with 353. Dak Prescott had his first game passing for less than 200 yards. The Cowboys were outgained by 152 yards in total, and by 259 passing yards, and lost the time of possession 33:24 to 26:36. Yet Dallas was never not in control of the game.
The difference was that Dallas cashed in touchdowns on all four trips into the red zone, while Washington, until late in the game, drove repeatedly deep into Dallas territory, but was forced to settle for field goals, or missed field goal attempts.
Dak missed some passes. On Dallas’s third drive, after Washington had cut Dallas’s lead to 7-3, Dak came off of Dez Bryant who was wide open down the middle for what would have been a long TD pass. Later in that same drive, Dak overthrew Brice Butler in the end zone when the pass should have gone to Jason Witten to his left for a much more open and much easier TD pass.
Dak also made some tremendous passes. In that same drive, facing a 3rd and 14 after suffering his only sack, Dak dropped a perfect pass over the defenders to Cole Beasley, who is very hard to see on this kind of pattern because of his size. He also hit Terrance Williams on a pinpoint pass at the pylon for Dallas’s second touchdown. And on Dallas’s last touchdown drive, hit Dez Bryant in the hands at the two yard line on 3rd and nine. Had Dallas been forced to settle for a field goal, Washington would have remained within one score.
In a span that dates back to overtime of the Week 8 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Prescott is 30-of-33 for 325 yards in the fourth quarter, with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run. He added 6-of-7 for 79 yards is the latest part of that ledger in Thursday’s win over the Washington Redskins.
Zeke also alternated between being great, and bottled up. On the Cowboys’ opening drive, Zeke rushed four times for 43 yards, and caught a four yard swing pass. He closed the drive with two rushes from the Washington 11 yard line in for the score. But Zeke only gained three more yards on five carries for the rest of the half.
In the third quarter, Zeke was again bottled up, with two of his three carries going for only a yard. But in the fourth quarter, after Washington had cut Dallas’s lead to 17-12, Zeke busted off his best run of the afternoon, a 21-yarder to the right side. The next play he caught a dump off pass from Dak and rambled for 19 more yards. That drive ended in a Dallas touchdown.
When Washington answered with a three-play touchdown, Zeke added 21 yards rushing and a touchdown on Dallas’s answering drive to push the lead back to 12 points. Washington would score again, but was forced to use 4:36 to do so, and Dallas ran out the clock after the Washington onside kick went out of bounds.
Dak’s stats from his first eleven weeks.
(Note: The key stats here are Adjusted Net Yards per attempt, which demonstrates how well a QB gets the ball down the field and into the end zone. Completion percentage tends to show accuracy. Attempts shows the run/pass balance, with fewer attempts for QBs often the goal. Turnovers, or the lack of them, are also critical.)
This was Dak’s fourth worst statistical game, ahead of the Philadelphia overtime win, the second game comeback win over Washington, and the opening game loss to the Giants. Yet the game commentators remained effusive in their praise of the rookie.
Troy Aikman said at the end of the game:
"You run out of superlatives when it comes to how well (Dak) has played. And how about this Cowboys team? You've got Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliott and all these offensive linemen who are locked up until 2021. It sure looks like the Dallas Cowboys are going to be around for a long time."
"Dak Prescott is about as impressive and as accurate a passer as there is in the NFL."
Rodney Harrison over at the NBC pre-game show said:
"They have so many weapons. You can't just focus on one guy. But the key to making this offense run is the quarterback. It doesn't matter if you come after him, if you blitz him. Whatever you do he shows a great level of poise. He also has that ability to escape outside the pocket, extend the plays.
Dak hit his favorite receivers. Dez caught five passes on seven attempts, several of which with Josh Norman covering, for 73 yards. Dak hooked up with Cole Beasley on five of six attempts for 56 yards. Jason Witten added three catches on three attempts for 33 yards. Zeke caught two passes on two attempts for 23 yards. Terrance Williams caught one ball on two attempts for 10 yards, a beautiful toe-tapping touchdown. Lance Dunbar caught a pass on his one attempt, but for only a yard. Brice Butler missed on both his pass attempts.
Dak also extended his new streak of passes without an interception to 145 over his last five games. And he hasn’t fumbled for several games. It is this ability to take care of the football that is one of the secrets to the Cowboys’ 10-1 record.
"It's been the biggest thing for us winning," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "We're protecting the ball."
Dak also ran the ball more aggressively than in any other game, with eight runs for 39 yards and a touchdown. He now has five rushing touchdowns, tying him with Don Meredith (not Roger Staubach!) for the Cowboys’ record. He used his stiff arm on one run where he was not planning on going down, and drew a late hit penalty on another run where he slid for a first down. He was consistently able to get outside the pocket on pass attempts as well.
Dak won the game for the Cowboys despite losing the passer rating differential 108.9 (for Dak) to 120.7 (for Cousins), which is a key variable in who wins football games. The difference was that Dak got the Cowboys into the end zone on all four red zone trips, while Cousins ended up with field goal tries (and misses) at the end of four drives.
How did Zeke do in game eleven? As we discussed above, Zeke was the key driver for the Cowboys’ opening touchdown, accounting for 47 of the Cowboys’ 75 yards, and scoring the touchdown from the four yard line. He was then largely bottled up until the fourth quarter, when he gained 71 of his 120 combined yards on the game, and added a second touchdown. He now has 11 rushing touchdowns — one back of Tony Dorsett’s rookie rushing TD record. Zeke has 12 TDs overall. DeMarco Murray had 13 total touchdowns in 2014.
- Rushing: 20 carries, 97 yards, 4.9 YPC, 2 TD, long 21 yards, no fumbles.
- Receiving: 2 receptions, 2 targets, 23 yards, 0 TD, long 19 yards.
What do his totals look like after eleven games?
Zeke is now at 1,199 yards rushing after eleven games. That projects out to 1,744 over 16 games, so he is now 66 yards behind the Eric Dickerson rookie pace.
In some respects, this was not the normal Cowboys offensive dominance. They were under that 400-yard barrier for the first time since Week 1 and under 200 yards passing as well. That said, those are just arbitrary milestone numbers. The reality is that the Redskins were so frustrated with trying to get a meaningful stop that they were willing to try an ambush onside kick. Dallas was its normal, routine, devastating and balanced offense that cashed in all four red-zone trips with touchdowns. They look just as unstoppable as the dynasty team of 25 years ago.
It wasn’t as statistically pretty as the string of eight straight 400+ yard games, but Dallas scored a touchdown on both second-half drives after Washington cut the lead to less than seven points.
My grades this week?
- Dak. B+. Dak had his fourth worst statistical game, and missed Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, and Jason Witten on touchdown passes the one drive where Dallas ended up settling for a field goal. But he also made some tremendous touch passes to Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Dez, and was very aggressive as a runner, adding a touchdown on the ground himself. He was sacked only once (Washington got him four times in the first game), and kept Dallas ahead from the opening drive to the end.
- Zeke. B+. Zeke was bottled up for half of the game, but he opened and closed it with key runs and receptions that made a difference in three of four Dallas touchdown drives. He also rushed for two TDs.
Let’s finish with this quote from Tim Cowlishaw.
Good things don't just happen to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They make things fall their way, even on an afternoon where the roles are reversed and the opponents are eating up the clock and piling up the first downs. But Washington, which missed a pair of field goals, came up five points short and the Cowboys, challenged as they were, responded whenever the need arose.
What did you think of their performances?