What a terrible game. There is nothing like waiting over an hour for a weather delay only to be subjected to such rotten football. The offense looked bad. The defense looked bad. It’s tough to find the words for it, but Talkin’ Cowboys host Taylor Stern gave it a try:
This game is like listening to nothing but nickleback while being locked in a closet. Torturous.— Taylor Stern (@TayStern) September 17, 2017
You see, the new era Cowboys haven’t been smoked like this before. You can count the 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in last year’s finale if you want, but I don’t. This one counts though. It was the first time a Dak Prescott-led Cowboys team got their clocks cleaned. How are we supposed to feel? Is this real life? Should I sell my Cowboy memorabilia? Cry out for Tony Romo? Please tell me how I should handle this because I am at a loss.
Okay, not really. It’s not a big deal. The Broncos played well and the Cowboys didn’t. Sure, I’m taking down all my posters which proclaim that the Cowboys have a top 10 defense. I don’t even know how those got in my room. And if there was a part of me that thought Dak would just take the league by storm and beat everyone like they owe him money, well - I’ve come down to earth a bit. It was a tough game, but sometimes those things happen. Here are my 10 observations...
1. Life without Zeke
If you ever wondered what this Cowboys team would look like without Ezekiel Elliott, well, wonder no more. Elliott was essentially non-existent against the Broncos as he ran for a career low eight yards. I don’t know what exactly happened for this complete shutdown of last year’s rushing champion to occur. Maybe the Broncos used 13 defenders without anyone catching on? Whatever it was, I hope other teams don’t successfully mimic it, because it was completely deflating for Cowboys fans.
The Broncos are a good defensive team and deserve every bit of the credit, but this is unfamiliar territory for a team that has built a strong ground attack. Elliott’s longest run last week was for 10 yards and I thought that was a surprise, but he never broke one for more than five yards against Denver. Zeke just seemed out of it. Is all this off-field court stuff weighing on him too much? He just looked like his mind was somewhere else.
Ezekiel Elliott has decided to accept his suspension from Cowboys effective immediately after this interception pic.twitter.com/fCYOk6XoBD— Mr. Beastly (@inbeastitrust) September 18, 2017
Ezekiel Elliott entered the game with 15 straight games with 80+ yards, tying him with Marcus Allen for the NFL record. It was expected he’d stand alone with 16 after doing it again against the Broncos, but alas, it was not meant to be.
2. Feed C.J.
As someone who follows the Cowboys closely, I feel like I got a good feel for what this team is. So when I decided to sit C.J. Anderson on my fantasy team because of the Cowboys strong run defense, I was content with that decision.
Boy, was that a mistake.
Anderson helped himself quite a bit, taking advantage of the Cowboys missed tackles. He would rush 25 times for 118 yards and one touchdown. He would also have 36 receiving yards, including a 16-yard touchdown catch. 76 of his yards would come after contact and include six missed tackles.
C.J. Anderson has 100 yards rushing against the Cowboys.— Pat Doney (@PatDoneyNBC5) September 18, 2017
It's the first time Dallas has allowed a 100-yard rusher in 623 days. @NBCDFW
The Cowboys were one of the top rushing teams last season and their defense allowed the fewest yards per game, but on this day - it was flip-flopped. The Broncos would win the running game handily out-rushing the Cowboys 178 to 40.
3. The Dak scare
When Dak Prescott has to throw the ball 50 times, that’s a good sign things are not going well. He would have an awful game. The two interceptions were unsettling. The 68.6 quarterback rating was disappointing as it was the second-worst of his career following the only other two-pick performance he had in the December loss to the New York Giants last year. Those things didn’t sit well, but I will happily accept them in lieu of him suffering a major knee injury, which for a brief moment I thought was a possibility.
On the last play of the first quarter, Prescott scrambled and was tackled around his neck, awkwardly bending his leg around. Luckily, Prescott would be okay, but watching it on the replay, it was a scary moment for fans.
4. 3rd down defense
The Broncos converted 9 of 15 on third down, but it would actually be worse had it not been for the late-game clock-chewing three-and-outs they conceded. The reality was - the Cowboys defense couldn’t get off the field when it mattered. The Cowboys did a good job getting them to third down, but they just couldn’t stop them. And down and distance didn’t seem to matter. Denver converted the short ones and they converted the long ones. Even when the Cowboys did stop them and forced them to a field goal, a leverage penalty would give Denver a new set of downs, eventually resulting in a touchdown.
The Broncos had a third-and-11 from the Cowboys 30 when they dumped off the ball to C.J. Anderson on a short pass. He somehow managed to scurry away from defenders and drag them for just enough yards to get the first down.
5. DeMarcus Day
On the day that Cowboys/Broncos great DeMarcus Ware was honored, it was another DeMarcus that stepped into the spotlight. After getting two sacks last week against the New York Giants, DeMarcus Lawrence would get two more against the Broncos. His sack/fumble on Trevor Siemian was the sole highlight for the Cowboys on this day.
Lawrence is off to a great start this season. He did get called for a leverage penalty that ended up giving the Broncos a fresh set of downs which eventually resulted in a touchdown, but overall - it was a good performance. He also had seven tackles on the day.
6. Somebody stole Sean Lee
The Cowboys defense has been known to have bad days at times. That’s not something that is going to shock Cowboys fans. But when Sean Lee struggles, that’s a serious problem. The Cowboys All Pro linebacker had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen him play. He would run around battering players left and right, but none of them would be wrapped up. In some cases, it looked like he was just knocking out his own guys. It was like he was out there playing with no arms and that’s not a good thing if you’re a linebacker.
It's not just one guy for sure, but I haven't seen Sean Lee play like this before. He's getting blocked every play it seems.— Nick Eatman (@nickeatman) September 17, 2017
7. Whatever Trevor
So when did Trevor Siemian turn into a great quarterback? Not too many people were worried about the former seventh-round quarterback posing a huge threat to the Cowboys defense. While he never hurt them deep, he dinked and dunked his way to four touchdowns. He kept the chains moving and helped the Broncos offense sustain some nice time-consuming drives. It was sickening to watch. I don’t know how other fans do it when Prescott pulls that same stuff against them.
But you have to tip your cap to the third-year quarterback. He knows he has a good team behind him and he did what he needed to do to help his team win.
8. Another record for the GOAT
Jason Witten had a team best 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he moved ahead of Marvin Harrison for fourth all-time in receptions. He’ll be the first to say that doesn’t mean anything in a losing effort, but it means something to us so we’re going to acknowledge it.
Cowboys TE Jason Witten (1,103) now has the 4th-most receptions in NFL history, passing Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (1,102)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 18, 2017
9. Depleted secondary
Last week when Orlando Scandrick went out early in the game, the Cowboys relied on rookie defensive back Chidobe Awuzie to fill in. And he played extremely well.
But this week, the Cowboys would endure more injuries to the cornerbacks, and this time things didn’t go so smoothly. Already without Scandrick, the team lost Awuzie (hamstring) and then Nolan Carroll (concussion). Once again, the defense would call upon a couple more rookies to step in. Jourdan Lewis made his NFL debut and came away with nice interception. They would also call upon Xavier Woods and shifted him to the nickel corner.
The Cowboys were without three of their top four corners with Anthony Brown being the last one standing. That’s a situation that is typically not going to work out very favorably for the defense. The good news is that none of the injuries were bad and the team should get most of them back soon.
10. Next two games are much easier
Well, two games down and the Cowboys are 1-1. They won the divisional game so that’s the important one. They get Damontre Moore back now. And in two more games, they’ll have the great David Irving back in the pass rushing rotation.
There stands a good chance that the team sits at 3-1 after the first four games. The next two games on the schedule are the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. The David Johnson-less Cardinals needed overtime to beat the Indianapolis Colts. And despite the improvement of the Rams, they’re still not a team to worry much about.
It still means the Cowboys need to play good football, but these two games are very winnable games.
What things from this game caught your attention the most?