What a difference a week, and some home cooking, makes! After two shaky games by Dak Prescott on the road against the Vikings’ and Giants’ defenses, Dak came out hot from the opening kick-off and finished the night an incredible 32 of 36, for an 88.8% completion percentage, the second-highest in NFL history for a quarterback throwing more than 30 passes.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott was dominating, gaining 159 yards — his season’s high water mark — on only 23 carries, for a 6.9 yards per carry average. He needs to average 128.5 yards per game over the final two games to pass Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards. He also set the touchdown record for a Cowboys rookie running back with 14.
But, more important than any of this is the the Cowboys won the game 26-20 over a red-hot Bucs team that had a five-game winning streak, during which they were holding opponents to an average of 12.8 points per game.
The game featured numerous penalties and busted plays by the Cowboys that blunted drives, or it could have been a massive blowout.
- Vince Mayle holding call at the Tampa 28 pushed the Cowboys back, and in trying to make up the yardage, Dak was sacked on second down. A short pass to Witten left Dan Bailey trying a 56-yarder that fell three yards short. Cost? At least three points.
- Doug Free facemask penalty backed Dallas up from second and five at the Tampa six to second and 25 from the Tampa 31. A field goal was made, but it should have been a TD. Cost? A potential four points.
- Ron Leary held on the last Dallas drive of the half, and though Dallas overcame if for a first down, they ended up with a 52-yard field goal attempt that was no good. A few yards closer and the field goal would likely have been good. Cost? Three points.
- Ezekiel Elliott botched the handoff on a Lucky Whitehead reverse, and though Dallas recovered, they were forced to punt. Drive killer.
- Lucky Whitehead got thrown for a seven-yard loss on a jet sweep (bad ball placement, as forward progress should have been 2-3 yards better). Drive ended in field goal. Cost? Unknown.
- Tyron Smith holding call nullified 20-yard TD pass to Lance Dunbar. Settled for field goal. Cost? Four points.
That’s at least 14 points lost to mistakes, by my count. Why is this relevant in a Dak and Zeke report? Because other than Zeke’s bad handoff to Lucky Whitehead, the mistakes weren’t made by Dak or Zeke. The rookies were again terrific, and show how explosive this team can be if it can clean up the penalties and drive-killing plays.
Dallas rolled up 449 net yards of offense, which was two more than they gained against the Bears, and 11 fewer than they gained against Philadelphia, but that game went to overtime.
Jason Witten was Dak’s security blanket, with 10 catches on 10 targets, but he only gained 51 yards, and the Bucs forced a rare Witten fumble. Still, this had a calming influence early in the game, and announced that there wasn’t going to be a repeat of the last two contests.
Dak hit Dez Bryant for 8 catches on 10 targets for 82 yards, a far cry from the Giants game, where he was held one for nine. The Cowboys used Dez in the middle of the field over and over again, which was a change-up that worked.
Cole Beasley caught four balls on five targets for 48 yards, Terrance Williams caught three of four targets for 30 yards, Zeke was three for three for 29 yards, Lance Dunbar was two for two for 20 yards and a 20-yard TD called back by penalty, Brice Butler caught a pass for 21 yards, and Darren McFadden caught a pass for -2 yards. That’s eight targets, and high catch rates for all. A note about Dunbar: this game the Cowboys used him well, splitting him out wide to draw coverage he could exploit.
Ezekiel Elliott was solid in the first half, with 10 carries for 48 yards and two of his three catches and a touchdown. But he was a bigger difference maker in the second half, when he broke off a 42-yard run, gaining 111 yards on 13 carries.
Zeke also got penalized 15 yards for jumping into the Salvation Army bucket after his touchdown run. It didn’t end up hurting Dallas, as Tampa was pinned inside it’s 25 on the ensuing kickoff.
Dak’s stats from his first fourteen 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.)
Dak’s overall stats were not his best in terms of ANY/A or passer rating, but he had the highest completion percentage of his young career, and came close to setting an NFL record, per the image at the top of this article. He was in command from the get-go, showing no ill effects from the “noise” of the week questioning whether he should be benched despite leading the team to an 11-2 record. Clearly the Cowboys made the right choice in sticking with Dak Prescott.
Dak seemed to be on the same page with all of his receivers. He also ran four times for 20 yards and a touchdown, breaking his tie with Don Meredith for single-season rushing TDs as a Dallas quarterback. Dak now has six TDs rushing and 20 passing. He was, however, sacked three times for 15 yards, making that three games in a row with those totals. Yet he didn’t turn the ball over even once, while Jameis Winston was picked three times and lost a fumble.
Dak won the passer rating differential 118.75 to 55.3, which is a key variable in who wins football games. That is likely the biggest discrepancy of the season, and if not for the mistakes itemized above, should have put the game away early.
How did Zeke do? He was dominant, outshining the Tampa lead-runner, Doug Martin - who gained 42 yards on 16 carries - by leaps and bounds. Zeke had that number on a single run.
- Rushing: 23 carries, 159 yards, 6.9 YPC, 1 TD, long 42 yards.
- Receiving: 3 receptions, 3 targets, 29 yards, 0 TD.
What do his totals look like after fourteen games?
Zeke is now at 1,551 yards rushing after fourteen games. That projects out to 1,772 over 16 games, so he is only 36 yards behind the Eric Dickerson rookie pace.
Elliott had seven runs of 10 yards or more, including a 42-yarder through the right side in the fourth quarter that set up the Cowboys' final field goal that extended the lead to six.
A week after Elliott had four carries for minus-1 yard in the fourth quarter at the Giants, he finished strong against Tampa Bay. Elliott rushed eight times for 78 yards in the fourth quarter and pulverized a Buccaneers' defense that was peaking.
Dak and Zeke (and David Irving) were awarded game balls by the NBC broadcast team, and the Cowboys set the record for wins on Sunday Night Football, with 30.
Bob Sturm gave the offense a B, but mostly because of the miscues mentioned above, not the play of Dak and Zeke.
The yardage productivity returned with great ease on Sunday night against a defense that had been on a tremendous roll. Despite another huge day of 449 yards, the scoreboard did not flatter the production because of several damaging penalties and a few missed chances on third down. The team will want to clean these issues up, because eight scoring drives (adding in the two missed field goals) resulting in just 26 points makes the game far more difficult than it needs to be. That said, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led the way again with the skill they have showed all year. It was a tremendous bounce back effort.
My grades this week?
- Dak A. Coming off his worst game of the year, by far, Dak righted the ship from the opening drive, and completed an incredible 88.8% of his passes on 36 throws. Were it not for numerous team mistakes and penalties, the game would likely have been a blowout. He appeared to face far fewer blitzes this week, but he was decisive with the ball for the most part, and on target with all eight receivers he passed to.
- Zeke. A+. Zeke hit his season high in rushing with 159 yards on only 23 carries. He also caught three passes for 29 yards. He was dominant and powerful, and steadily kept Dallas’s offense “ahead of the chains.” One of the few runs where he didn’t succeed was on a third-and-two outside toss that came up a yard short of the first down and Dallas took the field goal for it’s final points.
What did you think of their performances?