Coming into their second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys faced many questions (as is to be expected). The three biggest were probably these: Would Tony Romo be able to knock the rust off? Would the defense find a way to generate some pressure and/or get takeaways? And, the most asked if not necessarily the most important, could Dak Prescott continue his hot start in the NFL?
The final and rather impressive 41 to 14 victory over the Dolphins was not really as important as those answers. And they were: Yes. Yes. And oh, hell, yes!
It didn’t take long for Romo to get back in a groove, and it was very hard to tell how much rust there really was on the first series. There were four flags on the first four plays from scrimmage, three of them against Dallas. But he got rolling on Dallas’ second offensive series, completing a pass to Dez Bryant and two to Jason Witten to set up a fifteen yard touchdown run for Alfred Morris, who basically came to a stop behind a mass of bodies in the middle of the line, then ran to daylight to the left.
The defense got a sack on the first offensive series for Miami, and it was from pressure by Tyrone Crawford right up the middle. But they were just getting started. Shaneil Jenkins, who is looking more and more like a real find by the pro scouts, got a strip sack of Ryan Tannehill that was scooped and returned to the Dolphins six yard line. They would add another sack by Kyle Wilber shortly after halftime.
But once again, the story of the game was the incredible play of Prescott. We all knew he could not possibly sustain the incredible performance from last week with that 154.5 passer rating. Of course he didn’t equal that.
He bettered it. Amazingly, in his second professional football game of his career, he actually posted a perfect 158.3. Perfect. He had to get a little help from a roughing the passer call that wiped out the one bad throw of his brief career, an interception that looked to sail on him (possibly due to not getting his feet set). But he wound up completing 12 of 15 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, plus he ran in a couple. One was on a twenty yard improvisation that Kellen Moore, they guy who was supposed to be the QB2 this year, would never, ever have managed to make. The other was on a sneak. Oh, and just to prove he can make all the throws, he had a 58 yard pass to Butler that traveled about 57 in the air, and immediately followed that up with a perfect back-shoulder throw to Butler for his second TD.
It is becoming impossible to make any rational argument why Prescott is not a viable choice for the backup quarterback job this season. Questions were raised about whether he could maintain at least a semblance of the level he played at last week. He was better. Objections were raised that he put up those numbers while playing with the starters, which oddly ignored that the job of the backup quarterback is to step in with the ones and lead the team to success. No matter, he played as effectively with the twos as with the ones. He never lost his poise, twice making smart throws down on the goal line that preserved the opportunity for Dan Bailey to come in, or in the second instance, for him to just barely sneak it in for a TD on fourth down. If anyone still thinks the Cowboys need to look for a veteran quarterback, you have to ask them this: Just who out there in the NFL who is not a starter is at all likely to be better than Prescott? It is highly doubtful you can come up with anyone who would.
Not all was perfect. There were those penalties, which cropped up throughout the game and contributed to one of the Dolphins’ scores. Chaz Green had a lot of the penalties, which was troubling as Dallas continues to search for the answer at swing tackle.
But there was also a lot of other things that went very right, as the lopsided score would lead you to believe.
Twice, the Cowboys defense got off the field without surrendering points after Miami got inside the ten yard line. It was a little bit of luck as well as some good plays, but you have to have both in the NFL.
Unexpectedly, the special teams really shone again. Vince Mayle blocked a punt coming out of the Miami end zone, which was recovered by Austin Traylor to set up an easy score. They kept the Dolphins from getting big returns and had some nice punt returns themselves. But the teams have now contributed directly to a touchdown in each preseason game so far. That is huge.
The Cowboys did not show much rushing in their first game, but they had a much more effective ground game. Morris alone had 85 yards, and would have gone over 100 on the ground except for a touchdown that was called back on one of those stupid penalties. He finished averaging 6.5 a carry. Darius Jackson had some good runs, but his total output was diminished by being run right up the gut on some plays where the Dolphins were expecting exactly that.
Most importantly, Romo was not hit hard and not sacked at all. Miami only had three QB hits by the two minute warning at the end of the game.
The Cowboys simply won in all phases of the game. And there were far more players who looked good than bad. Even Geoff Swaim and Andy Jones redeemed themselves by hanging onto the balls that came their way.
But don’t expect the Prescott mania to decrease. It is almost certain to get even bigger. Because no matter what anyone says, he looks to be a real NFL quarterback. We still don’t know how high his ceiling is. But it just seems to be going up.