The first two weeks saw Dak Prescott standing out as the deserving recipient of the game balls for the Cowboys. He was still one of the real stars of game three, extending his interception-free streak and finally getting a touchdown pass for his resume, but this week’s game ball has to go to the other rookie who has now shown us what we were hoping for all along. Ezekiel Elliott is the easy choice for this week’s award.
His stats were impressive, even going up against a wounded Chicago Bears defense. He amassed 140 yards on 30 carries, for a 4.7 yard per carry average. He showed he could be the workhorse and also had his first 20-yard plus carry to open the night. With a big lead and the need to work the clock late, he demonstrated that he could be the workhorse back when needed. He more than doubled his rushing total for the year and is now on track to exceed 1,400 yards as a rookie, and he added 20 yards on two receptions for good measure. That means he accounted for over a third of the yards from scrimmage for the offense. The only thing he failed to do was get a touchdown. For some reason, the coaching staff sent Lance Dunbar on the field with the team at the one-yard line, giving him the unusual stat line of one carry, one yard, and one touchdown. Maybe it was just to give Dunbar a chance to finally score for the first time in his injury-riddled career, but the fact he may have stolen that touchdown from Zeke does nothing to lessen the impact the rookie had in this game.
There were some other players besides Prescott who deserve mention, as would be expected in a game won by a margin of two touchdowns. Chaz Green got his first NFL start in place of Tyron Smith, who had his back tighten up on him before the game. Many have worried about Green, but he was more than serviceable. He only incurred one holding penalty, which was much better than many worried might happen. Prescott was not sacked during the game, and only had to endure one hit (outside of plays he ran the ball). And 199 total rushing yards speaks to the performance there. Ron Leary may have qualified for a half a game ball in coming in to relieve La’el Collins, who suffered a toe injury and appeared to be struggling a bit in the first half. Leary picked up right where he left off before his injury last season, and the decision by the staff to retain him looks very wise indeed.
Dez Bryant got his first touchdown of the season and Cole Beasley had a team leading seven catches, including the longest of his career. The secondary, with Orlando Scandrick out, played very well collectively, amassing four passes defended. In order, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Byron Jones, and Brandon Carr were the four leading tacklers, with Anthony Brown and the much-criticized J.J. Wilcox coming in at six and seven. Wilcox also had one of the big hits of the game to force a fumble. Only Sean Lee “spoiled” a secondary sweep of the top tacklers. Normally, you don’t want to see your defensive backs getting all the tackles, but this included some good stops on running backs and also reflected what appeared to be a deliberate choice to force the Bears to rely on Brian Hoyer to move the team. The Cowboys only yielded two touchdowns in the game. The strategy worked. It reflected the weaknesses of Chicago, but you play who is on the schedule, and things worked out well indeed.
But Elliott was the standout for the game. It is hopefully just the beginning. It is perhaps surprising that if there was an offensive rookie of the first three games named, three of the leading candidates would be Prescott, Elliott, and Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles (who, it pains me to say, may be on track to collect the OROY title). I don’t think anyone saw that the NFC East would have such a strong group of rookies this year, but that is the case. And it is a long season. The expected return of Tony Romo could well open up more opportunities to shine for Zeke. The best may be yet to come, and that is very exciting. This game ball signifies that this was the game where he came into his own. He certainly earned it.