It was a thrilling finish and an exciting win for the Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles. But don’t forget that the game was full of mistakes for Dallas, especially the play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Now they have a chance to do a bit of a reset against the Cleveland Browns. However, while the winless record in Cleveland so far would lead you to expect a win for the Cowboys, there is no such thing as a gimme in the NFL. Here are some things that Dallas needs to accomplish in this game if they want to keep the winning streak alive.
Don’t take the Browns lightly.
They may have lost eight games, but four of them were by six points or less. This is not a team that is bereft of talent, just missing some key elements. Their quarterback play is uncertain, but the offense has not been their real weakness. That has been a defense that has fared poorly and put the team in bad situations far too often.
There is also the “spotlight” effect that comes with the Cowboys. Everyone knows how much national attention Dallas garners, and everyone loves to beat them. That is just intensified by the Cowboys now sporting the best record in the NFC and starting to be considered one of the elite teams in the league. Winning this game would be a huge boost to the Browns organization, even though they are all but eliminated from playoff contention already. And they have a blueprint courtesy of the first three and a half quarters against the Eagles for how to get after Prescott. Whether they can execute it is another question, but you can be sure they are going to try. And he was hardly the only Dallas player who made mistakes. This has to be a team effort.
This is on Jason Garrett and his staff, and all indications are that the players are going into this game focused and prepared to do their jobs. But if they let the Browns have some early success, this could be dangerous. The idea of a “trap” game is sometimes overvalued, because all NFL teams have good athletes. This can hardly be considered a “must win” game, given the current standings. But it is a “really need to avoid a loss” affair.
The quality of the win is important.
Winning a close game against a good division rival like the Eagles is one thing. But one against the Browns would be somewhat troubling. The Cowboys need to have a game like they had against the Bears, Bengals, or Packers earlier this season. While the Browns do have some good players, the Dallas roster looks to be much better, especially on offense. They need to perform in a way that reflects that. The touted offensive line needs to open holes for Ezekiel Elliott and the other ball-carriers, and keep Prescott upright, with time to make his reads. And the defense needs to continue its trend of limiting the other team’s scoring. The Cowboys need another convincing win to re-establish their image of bullying lesser teams.
Prescott needs to get his errors corrected.
The best thing about the win over Philadelphia, outside of opening a two-game cushion in the NFC East, may be that it revealed flaws in his Prescott’s game without involving a loss. He seems well aware of what needs to be done.
Dak Prescott tells us Sunday was his "sloppiest game" says footwork and not driving on his back foot to blame. Working on it this week.— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) November 2, 2016
The incredible start to his career has masked the fact that he is still a rookie with a lot to learn about the pro game. A learning experience like that game can be invaluable, and he has already demonstrated the work ethic needed to overcome things. He needs to get off to a good start on Sunday to continue the swagger he re-established on the final two scoring drives against the Eagles. Tony Romo may be getting closer to returning, but in the meantime the Cowboys still need to pile up all the wins they can, and Prescott is one key to that.
Keep feeding Zeke.
It looked like Scott Linehan got away from leaning on Elliott in the second quarter last Sunday, which is puzzling given that he had 40 yards in the first quarter and was getting better as he got more carries. The Browns are not as good as the Eagles defensively, and the Cowboys need to utilize their run-first identity. Elliott is the league’s leading rusher and arguably the most valuable single tool they have in their kit. They need to use him all game long, and Alfred Morris needs his touches (and the plan seems to be to give him every third series or so to spell Elliott anyway). The running game is a club, and Dallas needs to bludgeon the Browns with it.
Hang onto the ball.
One reason that the Cowboys have been succeeding is taking care of the ball, but they flirted with disaster repeatedly against the Eagles. Prescott had an interception, and only a heads up play by Terrance Williams to commit offensive pass interference avoided another. A third was just dropped on the play immediately prior to the game-tying touchdown. And they had two fumbles they got back that could easily have gone the other way. This above all has to be brought back under control.
Those are the biggest things the Cowboys need to accomplish this week, at least in my opinion. And there are undoubtedly more. Let us know what your checklist for this game is in the comments.