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Point/Counterpoint: Can these four Cowboys stars rebound from bad performances?

A little debate about how Dak, Zeke, Tyron and The General need to do better.

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

With the Dallas Cowboys facing a suddenly very important game against the New York Giants, we are all wondering if they can bounce back from a very disappointing opener against the Carolina Panthers. In particular, the team saw some bad play from Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee, all of whom are going to be vital if the team is to overcome an 0-1 start. Can they play better this week? My co-author here at Blogging The Boys, Michael Strawn, and I sat down and had a little discussion about that.

Michael: Well, those are actually four separate questions; three of those questions can be addressed with the same answer. I fully expect Tyron Smith, Sean Lee and Ezekiel Elliott to bounce back to form. Each of them are All-Pro players with long histories of elite level performance. A one game aberration won’t make me doubt what they can do. I put more faith in the body of each of those player’s work than I do in a single game after a long layoff.

However, I can’t say the same regarding Dak Prescott. I’ve been a big Dak believer. But I was utterly appalled at his performance Sunday. He not only didn’t improve upon his second half 2017 performance, he regressed even further. At this point, I’m on the other side of the coin with him. Until he can prove he can again be 2016 Dak, I’ll have to assume that what we have seen recently is what we’ll get moving forward.

Tom: Well, on the first three, the legalese that “past performance is no guarantee of future results” seems appropriate here. In the cases of Smith and Lee, both have been in the league a long time already, eight seasons for Smith and nine for Lee. All players face an inevitable point of decline, and while I certainly hope it is not so, they might have hit that point after all those games. Both have injury histories to worry about as well.

With Zeke, it is more about the lack of time right now. He has gotten off to slow starts in his first two seasons, so a rebound is certainly likely. The problem is that it took him a couple of games to get on track the first two years, and the Cowboys just can’t afford that. They need him to get it going on Sunday.

On Dak, I will say this in his defense. He is only entering his third year in the league, and the man so many use as a measuring stick for him, Tony Romo, did not become a starter until his fourth seaspn. There is certainly room for growth. The problem with him is like with Zeke: They can’t wait until next season to see him figure things out. Not if certain coaches want to keep their jobs.

Michael: You raise a number of interesting points. I can’t really argue what you say about Tron and Lee; they are reaching the point of their careers where age-related declines could impact their performance (although it’s amazing to me that Smith is still only 28, the same age as Zack Martin). And yes, injuries have plagued Smith in recent years. But he looked better than he has in years in preseason. And his issues Sunday weren’t physical so much as mental; he frequently seemed confused on assignments and just failed to pick up his man. Lee, on the other hand, has always played well when he’s been on the field.

But your final sentence regarding Dak is the elephant in the room. The Cowboys’ brass effectively bet the team’s immediate and near future on Prescott. It was a sound bet based upon his 2016 performance. And it looked perfectly reasonable all the way through November of last year. At this moment, however, it’s looking very iffy. Prescott has played at a Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassell level for his last nine games. He currently ranks 24th in QBR (which has always valued him higher due to his running contributions). If he can’t turn it around, and pronto, as you say, the entire coaching staff likely won’t be here in a year. And the franchise will have been set back years as they look for their next franchise quarterback. No pressure, Dak.

Tom: I do agree that the issues with both Smith and Lee looked mental. The question remains for them if they can clean up things in a week of practice. That is a concern, given how long they had to come out and get it right in the opener. As much respect as we all have for both of them, it is now a “prove it” situation. And the Cowboys need them to, because the loser of this game is all alone in last place in the NFC East, and that is a deep hole to climb out of, even this early.

Zeke similarly showed some similar things, missing openings to just plow into the center of the formidable Panthers defense. With another pair of good defensive tackles lining up this week to stop him, he has to get things right as well. And he does not have the long years of experience to fall back on. He needs some help from the line and from Scott Linehan to put him in a better place to succeed.

Dak makes it unanimous about mental breakdowns. He had happy feet and was just slow in his reads. Again, he needs more protection plus some help from Linehan, Jason Garrett (who is always very involved in the QB room), and Kellen Moore. And he needs to take in and use what they tell him.

Michael: Again, all good points. I think we’re not really far apart here. It is somewhat surprising that after an offseason of concerns about the tight ends, receiving corps and safety position we’re talking about Smith, Lee and Elliott. I end where I began; I’m optimistic we see a return to form.

Tom: I hope we do, but as I said, this is a prove it situation. But if there is a silver lining, it is that not all four have to get it down this week (assuming they come along later). The defense played well even with an off day from Lee, and if either Dak or Zeke is back to form, then the offense should do enough to win this one. Better play from Smith might be enough all by itself, given how that would impact both the passing and running game. But the team will need all four on track before too long. And they have to have at least some of these players back up to what they can be this week, or bad days are ahead.

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