There was no let-down by the Dallas Cowboys as they faced the winless Cleveland Browns. Instead, it was a nearly complete manhandling by the Cowboys, which pretty much confirmed that this was a meeting between one of the best teams in the league and the team that is in the lead for the first overall draft pick. The final 35-10 score is very reflective of just how one-sided this game was.
If you are going to be one of the best teams in the league and make it to the Super Bowl, you have to be able to easily beat truly lesser teams. And, no disrespect to the Browns, that is exactly what the Cowboys did, in what may have been their best all around performance of the season. And yet it was one of the least dramatic games you will ever see.
The Browns opened and closed the first half with some very good plays, but the Cowboys completely controlled the time in between. And outside the drive for a field goal to open the game and the touchdown inside the two minute warning of the first half, there was just nothing there for Cleveland. For Dallas, there were no big, spectacular plays, just a bunch of solid performances. Dak Prescott was 12 for 15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 140.7 passer rating. Ezekiel Elliott racked up 65 yards and a touchdown. And on the day he set the all time record for consecutive games started by a Cowboy, Jason Witten had five catches for 66 yards and one of the TDs. Remember, this was by halftime, and he would pick up where he left off in the second half. He played like he was in his fourth year, not his fourteenth. The only player who was really quiet on offense was Dez Bryant, who did not have a catch before halftime, although there was an argument to be made that he was interfered with twice on what should have been catches.
Meanwhile, the defense, after being really fooled on the first two plays of the game, settled down, giving up a lot of yards but not many points. Brandon Carr had a couple of really good plays, including a textbook pass breakup in the end zone. Anthony Hitchens got credit for half a sack when he and Damien Wilson got to Cody Kessler, and the effort by Hitchens was impressive as he fought off a block. It was more of the bend, don’t break approach, and it still works quite well for Dallas.
The Cowboys came out to start the second half and pretty much put the game out of reach for the Browns with a three and a half minute touchdown drive (aided by a couple of offsides calls in the red zone), featuring a 35 yard completion to Witten, who really should not have been as open as he was all day, and capped off by Elliott’s second rushing touchdown of the day. Even Bryant got into the act, catching his first pass of the day for 19 yards.
The important thing for Dallas was that just about all the problems that they encountered in the first three and a half quarters against the Philadelphia Eagles last week were taken care of. Once again, Prescott was poised and comfortable in the pocket. Elliott was eating, and the coaches kept feeding him. Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Brice Butler all had catches, and the offensive line just looked like the outstanding unit we have come to expect. By late in the third quarter, it was already so out of control that Gavin Escobar, last seen on a milk carton, was the target for one of the easiest touchdowns you will ever see as the Browns sold out to stop an Elliott run that turned into a play action pass. It made it 35-10 with 1:41 left in the third quarter, and it was officially a rout.
Even the pass rush began to benefit, something that often happens when the score gets lopsided and the trailing team abandons any pretense of running the ball. Maliek Collins was the standout, collecting a pair of sacks in the second half.
It was just a quiet domination. There weren’t a lot of moments that made you jump up and down, just an inevitability to the win that built throughout the game. It was somewhat emblematic that the biggest performance of the day was by the most workmanlike of all players, Witten. He would amass 134 yards, his best game in three years. And he was getting open with ease. Maybe it was partly on the defense he faced, but he simply had his way all afternoon.
And to a large degree, that was how it was for the entire Dallas team. They came into Cleveland to prove they were a superior team, and they did just that, setting a season high for points and going over 400 yards on offense yet again, while lowering their points allowed average. It was such a dominant game that Mark Sanchez and Alfred Morris took over for Prescott and Elliott in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys continue to have the best record in the NFC at 7-1. And it increasingly looks like they have the best record because they are pretty much the best team in the conference.