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What We Learned From Cowboys’ 20-19 Loss To The Giants

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Mostly, things we didn’t want to learn.

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

It has been over a day now since the disappointing opening game of 2016 for the Dallas Cowboys. Going into the contest against the New York Giants, there were a tremendous number of unanswered questions about this edition of the Cowboys. Now we have at least some preliminary answers to many of them - and not that many of those answers are what we had hoped they would be.

Dak Prescott is still a work in progress. We were all warned that preseason games are not quite like the regular season, and that Prescott’s gaudy numbers were likely deceptive. That turned out to be true to a great extent. He was hardly a disaster, just clearly not a fully-finished NFL quarterback. And due to how things developed, too much was asked of him. The history of rookie quarterbacks making their first start shows us that forcing them to make a lot of throws is not a good thing.

And it appears that Prescott has some clear strengths and weaknesses. That is one possible explanation for why he made so many throws to Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, the two safety blankets in the receiving corps. He seems to be much better at those short throws than he is going deep.

The results are not all bad, by any means. But clearly there is work to be done, and Prescott has to show some development if he is to be a viable starter in the future. Still, he has come a long way since being taken as a supplemental fourth-round pick, and he certainly has not been proven to be unable to rise to the task.

Ezekiel Elliott still has to have blocking to succeed. While Prescott was mildly disappointing, Elliott was a major letdown. But given how he was being met at the line of scrimmage by groups of Giants, this is hardly all on him. The Dallas offensive line was not what we were looking for in the opener. They were beaten far too often by the Giants front four, which shows that New York may have gotten what it paid for with the huge free agent contracts it handed out in the offseason. We certainly were looking for better than the 2.6 yards per carry average for Elliott. Still, this may be something that he can grow beyond. And there is certainly historical precedent to show that a slow start does not doom him to a poor career.

The offensive line is still struggling to regain its form. In addition to the failure to open holes for Elliott, the offensive line had other problems. La’el Collins had two holding penalties and Zack Martin had a false start - half of all the penalties incurred in the game. Further, one of Collins’ happened on the next-to-last drive for the Cowboys, and Martin’s happened on the last one, when Dallas just needed a field goal to take the lead. Olivier Vernon moved inside after being in pretty much a standoff with Tyron Smith, and largely manhandled Collins the remainder of the game. Doug Free, who still seems to be having problems with his foot, let Jason Pierre-Paul past him several times, and only Prescott’s mobility saved him. And it looks like Travis Frederick had his issues as well.

The one positive was that Chaz Green was successful in briefly spelling Smith while he was getting a neck problem looked at, but five snaps is a very limited sample size.

The defense does have issues. There were two critical failures for the defense. First, they barely offered resistance once the Giants got into the red zone, yielding touchdowns all three times. Second, they let the Giants burn clock with bruising runs right up the middle on their final possession, putting more distance between the Cowboys and a possible Dan Bailey field goal for the win, and burning precious time off the clock. They did hold the Giants to 20 points, so the loss can hardly be blamed entirely on them, but they also had several times they could have stepped up, and didn’t. There were a few bright spots, such as Terrell McClain’s and Sean Lee’s overall performances, Benson Mayowa’s sack, and Brandon Carr’s interception, but there still is a crying need for more consistency. And the middle linebacker position looks like an ongoing concern.

The coaches are still conservative. The early part of the game was apparently scripted, and it worked well, except for the misfires in the red zone. But once they got beyond that, the play calling looked much like last year when Romo was out. There are certainly questions about why they were unsuccessful in getting Dez Bryant more involved.

And they did not find a way to get the running game going, although it looked like it worked better with Alfred Morris in. It will be important to see if they change things much against Washington next game. Unless the team is able to score more points with what they are doing, which is also possible. New York has a very stout defense, it appears, and we still have to see what Washington has to offer after getting beat by Pittsburgh.

Finally, it is still overreaction Monday. Worries about the season going down the tube abound. Yes, a win would have been a great start. But it is not the end of things just yet. Remember how pumped we were after the thrilling come-from-behind victory against the same Giants last year? We all know how that turned out. And don’t forget the season opener in 2014, when the San Francisco 49ers came in and punched Dallas right in the mouth with 21 points in the first quarter on the way to hanging a double-digit defeat on them. Gloom and despair was the order of the day, but the next week the Cowboys began an extended winning streak that led to the playoff run and DeMarco Murray’s record setting season. Frankly, the problems look more solvable after a one point defeat where there were multiple plays that could have swung things the other way. One very overlooked play was the one in the third quarter that was ruled a fumble when Eli Manning threw the ball backward trying to avoid the sack. Had the Cowboys gotten to that ball first, they would have been set up in the red zone with an excellent chance to go up and win the game.

We still have a lot of football to see. Yes, the Cowboys are in a hole, but it is hardly a deep one. Now they have a lot to fix, but many of the issues do appear solvable. We just have to see how well they manage things.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB