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Dak and Zeke report: A tale of two halves in Cowboys’ loss to Rams

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The Cowboys’ offense started off well, but an inexplicable stall in the third quarter allowed the Rams to blow past the Cowboys for the win.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What to make of this game? Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott didn’t play badly. They just didn’t play well enough to win when their defense wasn’t stopping the Rams and the Cowboys committed the two turnovers in the game. If you look at the other side, Jared Goff had slightly better stats than Dak, while Todd Gurley’s stats blew away Zeke’s even though Zeke had 139 yards from scrimmage.

(Goff finished 21 of 36 for 255 yards, two TDs, no picks, and a 98.7 rating. Gurley ran 23 times for 121 yards, for a 5.3 ypc average, no TDs. He caught seven passes on eight targets for 94 yards and a TD.)

The reason we are writing this up as the tale of two halves is because Dak had a huge lead over Goff at halftime, while Zeke was well ahead of Gurley. In the second half, that flipped. The Cowboys led 24-16, and it should have been larger, but for the fumbled punt by Ryan Switzer that led to the Rams’ only TD of the first half.

You can’t blame Zeke for this loss, as he posted strong overall yardage and scored two touchdowns, even if he didn’t have a high yard per carry number.

But Dak should get his fair share of the blame. His second half was abysmal, as we’ll see in the numbers below. He also had a rare interception when his arm was hit, causing a floating duck that the Rams picked off. It led to one of the Rams’ seven field goals.

Even so, the major culprit in this loss was the inability to stop Todd Gurley and the Rams offense without Sean Lee on the field. The threat of Gurley’s runs definitely helped the Rams passing game, just as Zeke helps Dallas’ passing game. That, and the two turnovers by Dallas, were probably the difference. Dak and Zeke didn’t do enough to overcome those flaws.

Let’s go to the numbers.

Dak Prescott

Here is Dak’s line for the season.

WEEK OPP SCORE CMP ATT CMP% YDS ANY/A TD INT RATE QBR RUSH YDS TD SACKS YDS
1 NYG W19-3 24 39 61.54% 268 7.08 1 0 90.55 69.6 3 24 0 1 5
2 At DEN L42-17 30 50 60% 238 3.42 2 2 68.6 35.1 3 24 0 2 10
3 At AZ W28-17 13 18 72% 183 11.26 2 0 141.7 85.7 3 16 1 1 9
4 LAR L35-30 20 36 56% 252 7 3 1 93.8 78.2 3 25 0 2 1
Total 2W-2L 87 143 60.84% 941 6.31 8 3 88.9 68.9 6 48 0 6 25

This is not a good game for Dak Prescott, but with a halfway decent defense, should have been enough to win. The three TDs are very nice, but two of them are negated by the interception, the completion percentage is low, and the ANY/A and passer rating might be okay for other quarterbacks, but they are not up to the standards we expect from Dak. If you compare him to last year, this would have been his fourth worst game if you don’t count the meaningless last game in Philly.

What highlights the problem is the two halves for Dak. Let’s look at those numbers.

HALF OPP SCORE CMP ATT CMP% YDS ANY/A TD INT RATE RUSH YDS TD SACKS YDS
1st half LAR W24-16 11 15 73.33% 155 11.4 2 0 145.83 1 1 0 2 1
2nd half LAR L6-19 9 21 42.86% 97 3.42 1 1 53.08 2 24 0 0 0

The first half looks like the Arizona game. The second half looked a lot like the Denver game, but worse.

Dak’s receivers didn’t help him. Dez Bryant let a well thrown low pass go right through his hands and body on the opening drive of the third quarter for what would have been a big gain.

These are his overall throws in the second half. Zeke’s runs are omitted.

Cowboys 24 - Rams 16

  • Incomplete deep right to Dez
  • Short left to Beasley for no gain
  • Incomplete deep middle to Dez (this was Dez’s fault)
  • Punt

Cowboys 24 - Rams 19

  • Scramble up middle for 12 yards
  • Incomplete deep right to T Williams
  • Short right to Beasley for five yards
  • Punt

Rams 26 - Cowboys 24

  • Short right to Zeke for four yards
  • Incomplete deep right to Dez
  • Punt

Rams 29 - Cowboys 24

  • Incomplete short left to Dez
  • Pass short middle for Beasley, intercepted

Rams 32 - Cowboys 24

  • Short middle to Beasley for 12 yards
  • Short middle to Dez for 12 yards
  • Short middle to Dez for 18 yards
  • Deep right to Hanna for 28 yards, TD.
  • Run 2 point conversion in, negated by bad penalty call against Travis Frederick

Rams 35 - Cowboys 30

  • Short middle to Witten for 9 yards
  • Incomplete short right to T Williams
  • Incomplete short right to Beasley
  • Incomplete short left to Dez
  • Scramble left for 12 yards
  • Spike
  • Incomplete short left to Zeke
  • Incomplete short left to Dez
  • Short right to Zeke for 9 when 10 was needed.

Rams kneel and game is over.

What do you notice out of this? The deep passes they were trying in the third quarter didn’t work at all, and the Cowboys didn’t do enough in the running game to move the chains. It wasn’t until Dak threw a series of short middle passes that the Cowboys marched down to almost tie up the game at 32.

Then the sequence when Dallas had the ball and a chance to drive for a winning TD, where Dak threw nearly every ball incomplete, was pretty brutal. On the previous drive, it took five plays for the Cowboys to drive 75 yards for a TD in 2:30. With 1:55 to go, there was still time. Indeed, the Cowboys were able to run 10 plays, but gained only 36 yards.

After one of the first downs, Dak spiked the ball. This was a mistake that ended up costing them just like it did in the playoff game against Green Bay. Dallas was lined up, but the Rams weren’t, and the Cowboys could have taken an easy 5-10 yard out on first down in the same time it took to spike the ball. Instead, with one less down to work with, they turned it over on downs a yard short of the first.

With one more first down, Dallas could have taken a shot at the Rams end zone. Brice Butler and Dez Bryant give the Cowboys at least have a chance on jump balls. But they never got close enough to try one.

Ezekiel Elliott

Here are Zeke’s numbers.

WEEK OPP SCORE RUSH YDS Y/A REC YDS Y/C TD FUM
1 NYG W19-3 24 105 4.4 5 36 7.2 0 0
2 At DEN L42-17 9 8 0.9 4 14 3.5 0 0
3 At AZ W28-17 22 80 3.6 3 14 4.7 1 0
4 LAR L35-30 21 85 4.0 4 54 13.5 2 0
Total 2W-2L 76 278 3.7 16 118 7.4 3 0

You’d have to stay Zeke had a decent day. His 54 receiving yards are the second highest in his career. And he’s only once had more than two touchdowns in a game. But four yards per carry is not enough for Zeke.

Let’s look at the splits by half.

WEEK OPP SCORE RUSH YDS Y/A REC YDS Y/C TD FUM
1st Half LAR W24-16 14 56 4.0 2 41 20.5 2 0
2nd Half LAR L6-19 7 29 4.1 2 13 6.5 0 0

It’s not nearly as pronounced of a difference. The main difference is that Zeke didn’t get many chances because the Cowboys had no extended drives.

  • Five plays and a punt
  • Five plays and a punt
  • Three plays and a punt
  • Two plays and a turnover
  • Five plays and a touchdown
  • Ten plays and a turnover on downs, end of game.

The Rams completely shut down Jason Witten. He’s been silent for two games in a row. They also neutered Cole Beasley, who caught three of six targets, for only 17 yards. With Dez Bryant gaining lots of yards (98) but being brutal on efficiency (5 of 13), the Cowboys couldn’t work their drives effectively.

Here are my grades:

  • Dak. C+. Dak looked great in the first half, but his second half was miserable. He then briefly woke up and drove the Cowboys on what should have been a tying touchdown, but for a questionable holding call on Travis Frederick that negated Dak’s two point conversion. When the defense couldn’t hold, again, Dak still had a chance for a game winning touchdown drive with 1:55 to go. (Had the two-point conversion worked, Dallas would only have needed a field goal.) Even with no timeouts, it could have been done. Dallas scored in less time last year in Pittsburgh. But Dak threw incompletion after incompletion under duress from the Rams’ rush, and the clock expired without any real threat to score.
  • Zeke. B+. 139 yards from scrimmage, Zeke’s second highest receiving yards, and two first half touchdowns are certainly good production. But the yards per carry are low, his longest carry was 16 yards, and he didn’t help Dallas control the ball with a lead in the second half.

Dak and Zeke need to be better. The defense needs to be a LOT better.

Dak and Zeke report - final numbers from 2016

Dak and Zeke report - week 1 victory over Giants

Dak and Zeke report - week 2 loss at Denver

Dak and Zeke report - week 3 win at Arizona