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The Dak And Zeke Report: How Did The Cowboys’ Rookies Do?

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We could be looking at the future backfield for the Dallas Cowboys. Let’s take a weekly look at their performance.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

How should we rate the debut performances of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in a week one 20-19 home loss to the New York Giants? Obviously they didn’t do enough to win the game. But was their play lacking? Or did the rest of the team, including the coaches, not do enough to pull out a victory?

Dak Prescott

Dak’s raw stats:

QB Tm Cmp Att Cmp% Yds ANY/A TD Int Rate
Dak Prescott DAL 25 45 55.6 227 5.04 0 0 69.4

Prescott also added 12 yards on two carries.

On a normal day, this is not good enough to win football games. 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.

While Dak’s stats are not good, his performance was almost good enough to win this game. Indeed, had Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley held on to touchdown passes from Dak, the Cowboys likely would have won.

Of the three other quarterbacks making their first NFL starts, Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo were clearly better, as their ANY/A levels would have ranked top-5 in the NFL last season if carried over a full year. Trevor Siemien, despite the praise he received, was not good in this category, but his defense and running game bailed him out. All won.

QB Tm Cmp Att Cmp% Yds ANY/A TD Int Rate
Carson Wentz PHI 22 37 59.5 278 7.95 2 0 101.0
Jimmy Garoppolo NWE 24 33 72.7 264 7.91 1 0 106.1
Trevor Siemian DEN 18 26 69.2 178 3.18 1 2 69.1

Of the four, Dak was asked to throw the ball more than any of them. Throwing 45 times is not usually winning football for the Dallas Cowboys. In Tony Romo’s career, he’s thrown 45 or more times in 15 games. His record is 5-10 in those games. (One of the victories was last year’s opener against the Giants, won by a last minute TD drive.)

Compare Dak’s line with the quarterbacks for Dallas last season.

QB GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds ANY/A TD Int Rate
Tony Romo 4 3-1 83 121 68.6 884 4.99 5 7 79.3
Matt Cassell 7 1-6 119 204 58.3 1,276 4.47 5 7 70.6
Brandon Weeden 3 0-3 71 98 72.4 738 5.91 2 2 92.1
Kellen Moore 2 0-2 61 104 58.7 779 5.19 4 6 71.0

All this shows is that all of the Dallas QBs were bad in 2015, even Tony Romo. Dak hasn’t improved on them, yet.

The main positive for Dak is that he didn’t turn the ball over. He engineered two 15-play drives and an 11-play drive to begin the game.

But it wasn’t good enough. Dak must get better, and do so quickly, with another division game next week in Washington. It is very hard for a team to pull itself out of an 0-2 hole and make the playoffs.

Ezekiel Elliott

How did Zeke do in his debut?

  • Rushing: 20 carries, 51 yards, 2.5 ypc, 1 TD, long 8 yards.
  • Receiving: 1 catch, 2 targets, -1 yard.

Not what was expected out of the preseason favorite for offensive rookie of the year, in total yards, yards per carry, receiving, etc. (Though he did seem to do quite well as a pass protector.) Yet, compared to the other 11 rookie running backs expected to receive carries this year, Zeke was the only one to even register.

  • Devonte Booker (DEN). 3 carries, 8 yards, 1 fumble.
  • CJ Prosise (SEA). 1 carry, -2 yards.
  • Derrick Henry (TEN). 5 carries, 3 yards.
  • DeAndre Washington (OAK). 5 carries, 14 yards.
  • Wendell Smallwood (PHI). 1 carry, 1 yard.
  • The other 6 rookie running backs didn’t get any carries.

Clearly, had Dallas drafted any of these other backs, Alfred Morris would be our lead runner. He did better on average than Zeke, 7 rushes, 35 yards, 5 ypc, 0 TD, long 13 yards. Did he get better holes to hit, or was it veteran savvy?

The 101 overall rushing yards for the Cowboys was better than just five games last season.

If you look at the drives, the opening of the game was all Dak and Zeke. This was the sequence: Zeke (1 yard), Dak (8), Zeke (3), Dak (17), Zeke (5), Zeke (1), Dak (6), Dak (9), Zeke (5), Dak (8), Zeke (2), Dak (0 - Beasley drop), Zeke (4), Dak (1), Bailey FG. It led to a methodical move down the field and should have ended in a TD, much like 2014. But the missed play with Beasley caused the team to come up short.

One final note about Zeke. Lest anyone panic, Zeke’s 51 yards was better than four of Todd Gurley’s games last year, and his 2.5 YPC was better than two of Gurley’s games.

Overall, Dak and Zeke didn’t perform as well as many of us expected.

I have one big question that perhaps those looking more closely at the tape can answer. How were the Giants able to shut down the running game with Zeke and the deep passing game that is the staple of the Cowboys offense? Normally, you have to pick your poison. Leave safeties back to take away the deep ball, and the offensive line and running backs for Dallas should steamroll you. Bring them up, and someone should be able to get deep. What happened? Did the offensive line have a poor game run blocking? Was Dak unable to see deep options that might have been open? It’s worth more study.

My grades this week?

  • Dak C+. Positives: Put team in position to win, no turnovers, could have had two TD passes, engineered long drives. Negatives: Low completion percentage, didn’t throw deep, despite having time to throw, often threw too high.
  • Zeke C. Positives: Handled the workload fine, scored eight-yard TD, pass protected well. Negatives: bottled up inside, wasn’t able to bounce outside, low yards per carry.

What did you think of their performances?