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Dak and Zeke report: No running room in ugly loss to Broncos

Where to place the blame in this game? There is a lot to go around.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was ugly. Did anyone feel like they were watching the Denver Broncos execute the Dallas offense? Trevor Semian was 22 of 32 (68.7%) for 231 yards, four touchdowns, and a 116 quarterback rating. C.J. Anderson ran 25 times for 118 yards, for a 4.7 yard average, and one TD. That’s a normal day for Dak and Zeke.

On the Dallas side of the ball, whereas the Cowboys had no three-and-outs against the Giants, it happened three times against Denver. Another drive was ended after two plays with an interception that went off Dez Bryant’s hands. What was Dallas’s longest drive of the game? Eight plays for 53 yards, which ended with a turnover on downs. Here are the Cowboys drives.

  • 3 plays, 9 yards, punt.
  • 4 plays, 20 yards, punt (down 7-0 after Denver went 8 plays, 78 yards)
  • 6 plays, 22 yards, punt (down 7-0, after Denver missed FG at end of 10 play, 63-yard drive)
  • 2 plays, 3 yards, TD (tied 7-7, off DeMarcus Lawrence strip sack)
  • 3 plays, 6 yards, punt (down 14-7, after Denver took FG off the board on DeMarcus Lawrence leverage penalty against made FG. Denver drive 14 plays, 66 yards.)
  • 8 plays, 37 yards, field goal (down 21-7, after Denver drove 8 plays, 51 yards)

Halftime

  • 2 plays, minus 5 yards, interception (down 28-10, after 15 play, 75-yard Denver drive)
  • 11 plays, 33 yards, downs (down 35-10 after Denver went 2 plays, 23 yards for TD off INT)
  • 6 plays, 44 yards, TD (down 35-17 after Denver was picked off by Jourdan Lewis on first play)
  • 3 plays, 7 yards, punt (down 35-17 after Denver went 3 plays, 8 yards, and punted; broadcast said this was first third down stop after 7 straight Denver successes)
  • 8 plays, 53 yards, downs (down 35-17 after Denver went 6 plays, 25 yards, and punted)
  • 9 plays, 31 yards, pick 6 from end zone (Aqib Talib picked Dak in end zone and raced 103 yards for the score, effectively ending the game at 42-17).

Dak Prescott

It’s a little challenging to grade this game. Certainly Dak didn’t play well enough to win the game. In addition to the two interceptions, one of which went off Dez Bryant’s hands and shouldn’t have been on Dak, there were several other balls thrown to Aqib Talib that Dez had to strip away as a defender. I didn’t see the end zone cameras to tell if Dak was missing down field opportunities, but he was certainly not sharp.

Yet the total lack of a running game should probably be Dallas’s bigger concern. Dallas barely exceeded the Giants rushing total of 35 yards, and that’s only because Dak himself rushed three times for 24 yards. It’s quite obvious if you completely stifle the Dallas running game, and don’t have to expose your secondary in doing so, Dallas is going to struggle to score.

Here is Dak’s line.

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 3 24 0 1 5
2 DEN L42-17 30 50 60% 238 3.42 2 2 68.6 3 24 0 2 10
Total 54 89 60.06% 506 5.01 3 2 78.21 54.6 6 48 0 3 15

We added ESPN’s QBR number this week, because it attempts to incorporate a value for quarterbacks’ rushing plays, but it’s only a cumulative number. ESPN doesn’t provide per-game numbers and they don’t provide the formula to calculate it.

Needless to say, this is not a good line for Dak Prescott. Let’s compare it to Dak’s two worst games from last year, both of which were against the NY Giants.

WEEK OPP SCORE CMP ATT CMP% YDS ANY/A TD INT RATE RUSH YDS TD SACKS YDS
1 NYG L20-19 25 45 55.60% 227 5 0 0 69.4 2 12 0 0 0
13 At NYG L10-7 17 37 45.94% 165 2.05 1 2 45.4 1 1 0 3 13

This game is right between the two Giants’ contests. The difference, of course, is that in the second Giants game last year, the Cowboys defense kept the contest to within a field goal. Here, the game was out of reach after Denver’s opening touchdown drive of the second half, which put them up 28-10.

What could Dak have done differently in this game? It’s hard to say without seeing the All-22 film. Was he missing open receivers, or was Denver’s defense just that tight?

It should be noted that Denver held opposing quarterbacks to the following line last season.

  • 306 att, 552 comp, 55.5%, 2972 yds, 185 yards per game, 4.4 ANY/A, 69.7 rate.

And that’s when they were getting gouged by other teams running the ball on them. Dak essentially matched those averages. Without his pick-six to end the game, his ANY/A would have been 4.2. So Dak essentially had an average game against the Denver defense.

It’s worth reading Bob Sturm’s morning after report on the game here, as he makes a similar point about the Denver defense.

Of course the Cowboys offense shouldn’t be just average. It needs to be above average. And it needed to take advantage of the Denver rushing defense, or at least that’s what most people expected. But what happened?

Ezekiel Elliott

Zeke’s line yesterday may end up being the worst of his career. Let’s hope so.

WEEK OPP SCORE RUSH YDS Y/A REC YDS Y/C TD FUM
1 NYG W19-3 24 105 4.3 5 36 7.2 0 0
2 DEN L42-17 9 8 0.88 4 14 3.5 0 0
Total 33 113 3.42 9 50 5.55 0 0

Unlike the Giants game, where Zeke, on 24 carries, gained at least 3 yards on 20 of them (the others were loss of 7, 0, 1, and 2 yard gains). Here are Zeke’s carries:

  • 0 yards up the middle (3 and out)
  • 3 yards up the middle (4 plays and a punt)
  • 2 yards up the middle (6 plays and a punt)
  • 0 yards up the middle (2 plays TD)
  • No carries (4 plays and a punt)
  • No carries (7 plays and a field goal)

Halftime

  • -5 yards left tackle (2 plays with an INT)
  • 0 yards up the middle
  • 2 yards left end (11 plays, turnover on downs)
  • 1 yard left guard
  • 5 yards up the middle for first down on fourth and one (5 plays TD)
  • No carries (3 and out)
  • No carries (8 plays, turnover on downs)
  • No carries (9 plays, pick-6 for Denver

What’s the problem here? There were no holes. There was no push. Almost all the runs were up the middle, and were stuffed. I counted one attempted rush to the right end, but it was negated by a penalty. There were only two drives where Zeke received more than one carry, and there were five drives where he didn’t receive any. His longest carry was five yards on fourth and one.

Is it fair to say Zeke brought no energy to the game? He looked disinterested to me on sideline shots, but I wonder if that’s just how he is when he’s sitting. Am I reading too much of the situation into it? What could be more telling is Bob Sturm ripping him for making no effort to stop Chris Harris after he intercepted the ball off Dez Bryant’s hands just after halftime.

I don't know when Zeke actually hung the moon for the rest of us, but for a 22-year old RB to stand there and watch Chris Harris return an interception from 5-yards away and have his hands on his hips and not even flinch, let alone consider helping his teammates chase down a pick, is just epitome of horrendous. There is no excuse for that and I hope he is properly humiliated when his team watches the film today and see how little he cared to pitch in and help his team. We all know his authority figures in the organization are extremely unlikely to light him up for that, but perhaps a teammate or two will let him know that greater players than him didn't find it difficult to keep trying when the day is not going your way. That was very, very poor.

Here’s the photo evidence.

So do you blame Zeke? The offensive line? The play-calling? The defense for falling behind enough to take the threat of a run out of the equation? The best answer is probably all of the above. Bob Sturm thinks Dallas didn’t commit to the run enough to establish it. He may be right, but it’s hard to see when there wasn’t any evidence that the running game was ever going to get going.

Teams have tried to stack the box before, but Dallas has still run the ball. Not yesterday.

My grades this week?

  • Dak. D+. Positives: Hung in there and avoided sacks for the most part. Completed two touchdown passes, and should have had a third that he put in Jason Witten’s hands, which would have closed the gap to 35-24 with enough time to potentially make the ending semi-interesting. Negatives: threw two picks and could have easily thrown two or three more, and was unable to get anything completed except short passes. The longest play by far was the 28-yard TD pass to Jason Witten.
  • Zeke. F. Positives: Very hard to find any. There were no holes, but he also didn’t run with any energy. Negatives: on nine carries, he had one run of five yards, one of three, and everything else went no where. His lack of effort on the interception is a black mark.

Dak and Zeke report - final numbers from 2016

Dak and Zeke report - week 1 victory over Giants