Arizona has not been an easy place for the Cowboys to get a victory. They had lost three in a row in that stadium, twice in overtime, and the third loss by a single point. The last time the Cowboys won there was in 2006, when Tony Romo was in his first season as a starter.
Add in the fact that at the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys had run a total of three offensive plays for three yards, falling behind 7-0, and seeing the Cardinals driving for what looked like a second touchdown. Then the game changed. Arizona was called for holding on DeMarcus Lawrence, the monster of the game for Dallas, and an Arizona TD was taken off the board. A missed field goal left Dallas within a score.
It still took Dallas the rest of the second quarter to dent the scoreboard, and it was on a short field, after Ryan Switzer returned a Cardinals punt 21 yards to the Arizona 33. Four plays later, Dak Prescott kept the ball on a read option and leaped two Cardinal defenders for a somersault into the end zone, and the game was tied 7-7 at the half.
In the third quarter, Dallas received the ball and drove deep enough to punt the Cardinals into first and ten at the seven-yard line. Holding them to only four yards, Ryan Switzer had a four-yard punt return to the Arizona 46, setting Dallas up in great field position again.
At that point it was Zeke middle for eight yards, Zeke right end for three and a first down, then Zeke right end again for 20 yards to the Arizona 15. Dak hit Dez over the middle on the next play, and Dez juked two tacklers, then drove five Arizona defenders the last three yards into the end zone. Dallas was up 14-7.
Arizona would get good field position a couple drives later after they pinned Dallas back on its 11, and turn it into a tying TD to Larry Fitzgerald.
On the next drive, Dallas would have to punt again, but Chris Jones and Kavon Frazier pinned Arizona on its four-yard line. Arizona couldn’t get a first down, and had to punt. The game was just into the fourth quarter, with Dallas set up on the 50. From there, Cole Beasley made his only catch on the night to convert a third down to the Arizona 37. On the next play, Dak rolled right and hit a perfect pass to Brice Butler, who high pointed the ball in the end zone for a 21-14 Dallas lead.
Arizona would not give up. They had a 16-play drive to the Dallas 19, but had to settle for a field goal. 21-17.
Dallas wasted no time on the ensuing drive. On the first play, Dak Prescott again rolled right, and with no one threatening, hit a 53-yard bomb to Brice Butler, right after Jon Gruden suggested the Cowboys try to grind out a few first downs.
Then it was Dak keeping on another read-option for seven, Zeke left tackle for seven, and then Zeke right inside for eight yards and the clinching score. 28-17 Dallas with 4:57 left.
Arizona would pad the stats with another drive, but it would die at the Dallas two yard line. Game over. Dallas wins 28-17.
How did Dak and Zeke do?
The stats are not gaudy in terms of yardage, but they are incredible in terms of efficiency, and they don’t even include Dak’s touchdown run. Here’s Dak’s line.
This was Dak’s second best game ever for ANY/A, and essentially a tie for second best in passer rating. On 18 passing attempts and three rushes, Dak helped Dallas gain 199 yards and score three touchdowns. He hit two perfect bombs to Brice Butler. He also re-introduced the read-option quarterback keeper. And he escaped one potential sack by rolling to his left and hitting Terrance Williams with a 22-yard strike.
As Jason Garrett said in the post-game interview, Dak displayed incredible leadership and poise. It wasn’t a great start to the game, and had the second Arizona touchdown held up, or even the field goal been made, it’s not clear how Dallas could have climbed out of a 14-0 hole. But fortunately they didn’t have to. Once Dallas clawed back to a 7-7 tie, the game was decidedly in Dallas’s favor, with Arizona trying to catch up.
The lesson here has to be for Scott Linehan to make sure Dak is allowed to move and extend plays by design. This is how he hit the two bombs to Butler, and his third longest pass to Terrance Williams. Dak also needs to keep running the football on those read-options.
The only mystery here is how did Arizona bottle up Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant for almost the entire game? Beasley had one catch, though it was a big one on third and three right before the TD bomb to Butler. Dez also had a huge catch and run for a touchdown. His only other catch lost three yards. While Witten caught one ball on four targets, for three yards. Noah Brown outgained all of them with a single 13-yard catch right before Dak’s rushing TD.
Fortunately, Dallas is unlikely to face this kind of defense for much of the rest of the year.
Zeke was bottled up early in this one. His first two carries on the Cowboys opening possession gained no yards. The next time Dallas had the ball, in the second quarter, Zeke lost three yards and caught a four yard pass. Another punt. On the third drive, Zeke gained one yard on second and two. But on third and one from the Dallas 15, Zeke broke free for 30 yards. At that point, you just got the feeling the misery was over, and Zeke was going to be a factor in the game.
Zeke didn’t play a rushing role in Dallas’s first TD, but he was a key decoy on Dak’s read-option TD scamper for 10 yards.
On the Cowboys’ second TD drive, it was three Zeke rushes for 31 yards that set up Dez Bryant’s willful 15-yard touchdown catch and run.
Zeke had two carries for six yards on Dallas’s third TD, which was the rollout bomb to Brice Butler.
On Dallas’s fourth TD, after the bomb to Butler on first down, it was Zeke as decoy on a Dak read-option for seven. Then Zeke for seven to the left and Zeke for eight to the right for his first TD on the season.
Here are Zeke’s highlights.
Here is Zeke’s line.
A hard fought game against a good defense on the road in a stadium the Cowboys haven’t won in since 2006.
My grades this week?
- Dak. A. Positives: Tenacious game against a defense that led the NFL in sacks last year, and that bottled up Zeke early. It took the Cowboys a while to get going, but once they tied it on Dak’s 10-yard run and somersault into the end zone, the Cowboys were never behind. Dak’s efficiency was awesome, with the second best ANY/A of his career at 11.26, essentially a tie for his second best quarterback rating, and two perfect deep bombs to Brice Butler, one for a TD and one that set up a TD. Negatives: Slow start put the Dallas defense behind the eight ball early, when the team was fortunate not to fall behind 14-0 or 10-0.
- Zeke. B+. Positives: Zeke didn’t have much in the way of holes to exploit once again. But he ripped off runs of 30 and 20 yards. The first flipped field position and led to Dallas’s first touchdown. The second preceded Dak’s touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. Zeke also powered in for his own TD to cap Dallas’s scoring. And he was an effective decoy for Dak’s read-option runs that scored one TD and led to another. Negatives: no obvious ones. Zeke appeared to get about as many yards as could have been gotten.