The Cowboys looked like a Super Bowl contender on Sunday, dispatching an inferior opponent without mercy. At 7-1, this team is red-hot. Let’s check in on the news.
The Cowboys game on Sunday didn’t resemble last week’s game at all, except for the fact that Dallas came out on top. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys struggled for much of the game, and much of that was caused by Dak Prescott’s play. This week, against the Browns, the Cowboys signal-caller was deadly efficient, completing 78% of his passes for three touchdowns and a 141.8 rating. One difference was the Browns were unable to pressure Prescott like Philadelphia. Last week, his footwork suffered and so did his accuracy. This week, he made sure it wasn’t an issue.
“It was more concentrating on my footwork, driving off my back foot, and I think I did a good job with it throughout the game,” Prescott said. “I felt myself a couple of times on my back foot, so I gotta go back and check the film to see if I made progress and did better.”
“I just try to come in and do the right things on and off the field, and show guys how much I care about this game,” he said. “If it results in being a leader, then, yeah, I’m a leader.”
Prescott is doing a little more than that to be a leader. Apparently he’s being vocal on the field, even with superstar veterans.
The box score shows one 19-yard catch for Bryant in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. He felt he was held by Browns cornerback Joe Haden on at least two would-be catches, including a potential 24-yard touchdown that went through his hands in the second quarter. The Cowboys scored three plays later on a 10-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.
“He pulled my arm,” Bryant said. “I couldn’t do anything about it. It is what is.
“I ain’t going to lie; I wanted it, though. But it is what it is.”
Bryant was clearly frustrated at points during the game. Some calming advice from rookie quarterback Dak Prescott helped.
“Dez is a guy we need. We don’t need him getting emotional,” Prescott said. “They were going to hold him. I told him. The flags are going to come, flags might not come, but we can’t let that affect our game.”
Prescott got Dez calmed down. That’s a leader.
With Prescott tearing it up on Sunday, it raised the question, as it does every week now, about Tony Romo’s possible return. The Cowboys are now treating it like it’s a blessing. As if it won’t matter which quarterback is playing. The whole piece by Graziano is worth a read, but here is some of the belief going on inside the Cowboys organization.
And that's the point we're all missing. The Cowboys aren't worried about what will happen to their team, or to this unexpectedly brilliant season, if they let Prescott keep the job. And they're not worried about what will happen if they give it back to Romo. The way their offensive line is playing, the way rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is gobbling up yards, the way their defense is overachieving ... it feels crazy to say this about this franchise, but the Cowboys right now may be drama-proof.
"There's nothing fragile here," Jones said. "This locker room is so fundamentally square on the ground with their feet. When I talk to players, when I talk to coaches, I don't walk on eggshells at all when it comes to Romo or Dak."
The Cowboys are feeling very confident in all aspects of their team, and in their locker room chemistry, that they believe either Prescott or Romo could lead the team. That may be hubris and in a couple do weeks we’ll see if they truly believe it. As for next week, Prescott will almost certainly start, but Jerry Jones didn’t rule out Romo being active.
When talking about one rookie (Dak Prescott), it seems you have to always talk about the other one, Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott averaged 5.1 yards a carry against the Browns, scored two touchdowns and felt like he was back at Ohio State playing Kent State. The Cowboys, holding a 35-10 lead after three quarters, played Elliott only one snap in the fourth — a 5-yard rush that left him 8 yards shy of his fifth 100-yard game. (He had 96 yards last week against Philadelphia.)
“It’s a long season, and I’ve had a very increased workload, so they’re just taking care of me,” Elliott said.
Elliott, with a league-leading 891 yards, has the third-most rushing yards by a rookie in history through eight games. Adrian Peterson had 1,036 as a rookie in 2007 through eight games, and Eric Dickerson 995. Dickerson owns the NFL rookie record at 1,808, with Elliott on track for 1,782.
But Tony Dorsett’s team rookie rushing record of 1,007 won’t hold up long.
It’s been discussed here and other places ever since Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott; the team was trying to go back to the 2014 blueprint. Now, at 7-1, the question has to be asked - is this a better team than that 12-4 bunch of two years ago?
The Cowboys believed they were the rare team that could see the future by pressing rewind. They used the draft to turn back the clock to the 2014 Cowboys. We can now say at the midpoint of the 2016 season that they missed the mark.
This team is better than that one.
The Cowboys are trying to turn back the clock to the 2014 team, but Jason Witten was turning back the clock even further on Sunday, looking like prime Witten in his mid-20s.
"Damn it feels good," the 14-year veteran said Sunday after Dallas crushed Cleveland, 35-10, at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Cowboys are 7-1 in large part because of their star rookies, running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. But the 34-year-old Witten made some plays Sunday on the way to eight catches for 134 yards and a touchdown that impressed even the youngsters.
A week after catching the game-winning touchdown in overtime, Witten followed up with his first 100-yard game since the season finale in 2013.
We pay a lot of attention to the Cowboys offense. You have to when a unit is playing as well as they are this season. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the year for the Cowboys has been the play of their defense. They are a top 10 team in scoring defense, this week holding Cleveland to 10 measly points. Part of that success is another rookie, Maliek Collins.
As the sacks kept piling up for the Dallas Cowboys during their 35-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon, the players kept talking about the relentless energy they repeatedly displayed at FirstEnergy Stadium.
For one, Maliek Collins, a 21-year-old rookie defensive tackle out of Nebraska, appeared to be enjoying his finest hour as a Cowboys player more than anybody. Collins picked up two sacks against the Browns and helped the Cowboys win their seventh consecutive game and reach the midway point of the season with a 7-1 record.
“It’s really just me going out there and trying to execute and do my job,’’ said Collins, explaining the success he encountered against the Browns. “Good things happen when you do your job.
“This week I was able to come in there and make a couple of plays for the defense when we needed it.”
Overall, the unit had a great game.
DEFENSE -- A
It is nearly impossible to hold an offense under 225 yards in today's NFL (something a Dallas defense has done only two other times in the last five seasons), but the Browns had just 222 yards and were an absurd 1 of 9 on third down. The Cowboys held an opponent to one third-down conversion just three times in the last five years. The pressure was solid all day, as the team had four sacks, which ties its season high (Bengals). The Browns were in the top 10 in big plays this season, but after a 44-yard gain on their second snap had only one other 20-plus-yard play all day.
Going into the game, there was concern over the secondary. The injuries to Morris Claiborne and Barry Church meant that the unit would be tested. They passed their first test on Sunday.
• The stat sheet will say that Brandon Carr had just one pass breakup, but in watching him play, I felt like he was far more involved in covering the Browns receivers. Statically this might not have been his best game, but he just didn’t appear to give up any ground. His positioning, awareness and technique were right where it needed to be. He played comfortable and relaxed, which is exactly what this secondary needed since they were missing two key players in safety Barry Church and cornerback Morris Claiborne.
• Speaking of safeties, nice play by Jeff Heath on third-and-7 to cover Gary Barnidge out of a bunch formation and stop the big tight end 2 yards short of the first down to force a Browns punt. Going into the game, I thought the plan would have been for Byron Jones to carry Barnidge in those situations, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli trusted the much-improved Heath to handle that critical role.
There will be more tests to come. The Cowboys team as a whole will be tested as they have to travel again next week to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s never an easy task. But this 2016 Cowboys team keeps surprising us each week.