This article notes the offensive woes should not all be laid at Dak Prescott's feet. Janoris Jenkins effectively took Dez Bryant out of the game on Sunday, and the Cowboys never properly adjusted.
Jenkins has especially been impressive against Dez Bryant this year. In two games this year against the Cowboys, Bryant has caught 2-of-14 passes for 14 yards, with a key fumble that helped seal this game.
The problem for the Cowboys if an opponent can seal up Bryant is that, while they have decent receivers, they don't have anyone else who can win one-on-one at ease. They can manufacture passing offense with Cole Beasley and Jason Witten underneath, but if you're looking for someone on this team to decisively win their route in the first two seconds, it's Bryant or nothing.
Many people will want to make this game into a referendum on Tony Romo versus Dak Prescott. Prescott, to be sure, did not have his best game. He stepped into pressure at times, and made some pretty poor throws. We will get further into those in a bit. But the takeaway for me was not that Prescott is a run-focused quarterback who needs to be managed like Colin Kaepernick -- it was that Dallas' receivers weren't getting open.
It should also be noted that both the Vikings' and Giants' games were on the road, where even good teams often lose. Dallas has spoiled us with a perfect 8-0 road record in 2014, a perfect road record in Romo starts in 2015, and a 6-0 road record in 2016, until this Sunday. No other NFL franchise comes close.
Sean Lee made 22 tackles Sunday, breaking the record he shared with the great Lee Roy Jordan, who has been snubbed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite being named to five Pro Bowls, leading the Cowboys in tackles with 743 until Darren Woodson came along, and intercepting 32 passes, which ties him for third all time among linebackers.
"He's probably playing his best ball right now. His production is off the charts.''
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and his staff have a grading system that awards players for positive plays (example: two points for every tackle) and will subtract point for negative plays.
Lee received a grade of 122 for his game against the Giants. Only one other grade above 100 has been given during Marinelli's four seasons with the club. Guess who got it?
That's right. Lee picked up a grade of 105 for his effort against Philadelphia in Week 2 last season.
"One of the things that we commented on as coaches is it's a lot of different kinds of production,'' Garrett said. "It's direct runs at him, he's productive. It's sacking the quarterback, he's productive. It's recovering a fumble, he's productive. It's coverage, it's runs to the outside, it's tackle after the catch. He's just everywhere.
Staying on the defensive side, Benson Mayowa started for a limited DeMarcus Lawrence this week and made the most of his opportunity.
They sat defensive end Benson Mayowa from three games because of lack of production. He has had two sacks in the past two games since being made active, including a career high six tackles and a sack against the Giants.
"Benson did a really good job," coach Jason Garrett said. "He showed up in the game as a first-and-second down rusher, as a first-and-second down run defender – and then he made some big hits. He had the sack-fumble, he was around the ball a lot and was around the quarterback a lot. He played very well."
Run DMC has returned, with 6th rounder Darius Jackson cut to make room. But how will the Cowboys use him? As the prime backup to Zeke? As a replacement for Dunbar on third downs? Or will he make the game day roster at all?
The decision to activate McFadden gives the Cowboys a whopping three running backs with 1,000-yard seasons on their resumes. Ezekiel Elliott is currently sitting on 1,392 yards during his rookie campaign, and Alfred Morris posted totals of 1,613, 1,275 and 1,074 during his first three years with Washington.
Meanwhile, Jaylon Smith is now officially out for the season.
Looking ahead to Tampa Bay, the Cowboys' task of converting third downs isn't going to get any easier.
In the past two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys have been dismal on third down. They've converted just 2 of 24 third downs, or 8.3 percent, the worst rate in the NFL during that span -- worse than the winless Browns (43 percent) and the one-win 49ers (23).
That doesn't bode well for Sunday night, when they welcome the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Jerry World in a prime-time tilt crucial for the latter's playoff hopes. During their current five-game win streak, the Bucs' defense leads the league in yards per play allowed (3.1) and sack percentage (18.9 percent) on third down, while ranking third in conversion percentage (29.4 percent).
Gerald McCoy is a big reason why the Bucs have won five in a row coming into Dallas this week.
McCoy and the Tampa Bay defense have been on a tear of late, holding the opposition to 12.8 points per game over the last five weeks. The Buccaneers kept the Seahawks out of the end zone in an 11-5 victory and denied Drew Brees any touchdown passes last weekend in a 16-11 triumph over the Saints. The Bucs also went into Kansas City and thumped the AFC West-leading Chiefs 19-17.
The Buccaneers won all five of those games to resurrect as a playoff contender for the first time since 2010. Tampa Bay finished in last place of the NFC South for five consecutive seasons before riding that five-game winning streak to a share of first place in the division at 8-5.