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Cowboys had a great start, but need to show more against Washington

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What to look for in the upcoming Cowboys game versus Washington.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing like a blowout win over a division opponent to open the season. The Dallas Cowboys accomplished just that in week 1. But now, that is the past, and the future is another divisional game, this one on the road at Washington. The team is getting a lot of praise for a dominant performance. Now what do they need to do as a followup? Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle have a thing to two to say about that.

Tom: First and foremost, I think they need to show consistency. This can’t be a one-hit wonder, not if they want to be playing in January. We can’t expect another 400 yard, 4 TD performance from Dak Prescott, but he needs to keep his completion percentage up, maintain good mechanics, and not throw bad balls. Even more important, he has to show us that he can read the defense the way he did against the Giants. If he can carry that one ability forward, the chances for this team are very good.

Michael: Yeah, Kellen Moore is rightly getting lots of accolades. But Prescott deserves a ton of credit as well. He was a maestro on the field, directing traffic, orchestrating movement on both sides of the ball. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I can’t help but think back to the Monday Night game last year when Jason Witten repeatedly opined the Cowboys made things hard for themselves but “this is the way they play”.

That seemed to imply that Dak and the entire offense was handcuffed by the team’s offensive philosophy; now we’re finally getting to see what Dak can do in a modern offense.

Yes, it’s only one game. And when the offense struggles this year (and it will struggle) no one’s going to care what happened back in week one. So much more football to play.

Tom: I’m perhaps a bit more optimistic. They will probably have some much closer games but I’m not sure it will fall to the level of struggling. I think Moore is on to something quite sustainable with his motion and shifts. The partnership between him and his quarterback is also a major factor. Given that this was the first game, there are aspects of this offense that still may be able to grow.

I was thinking about what might need to get up to speed on the offense, and really can’t find anything to say about the WRs or the line, which were pretty great. The TEs held up their end with the two touchdowns. So that leads us to the running game, which was pretty minimal. How do you think Moore is going to try and use Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Jamize Olawale?

Michael: Good question and I don’t really know how Moore will employ them. I’m confident he will employ all three of them and will be effective. We already saw Olawale on a wheel route. I could see Pollard being set wide, going in motion and getting one of those simple pitches like they used with Randall Cobb for an easy 18 yards. It has to be pretty exciting for someone like Moore, who’s been drawing up plays for years, to have a deep, talented arsenal of weapons at his disposal. I’m getting excited about the possibilities just typing these words.

I do think Zeke ends up eating the most though. Many of the analysts have documented how the pre-snap motion created bigger lanes for Elliott on several runs by pulling linebackers away from the action. That’s such a far cry from Linehan inviting everyone into the box and trying to blow people away.

Bottom line . . . I think Pollard and Olawale get their touches and Zeke sees far fewer touches than last season (400 is crazy) but all three prove efficient.

Tom: I think the idea of creating bigger holes/emptier boxes is the important one. That is going to help free both Zeke and Pollard. Also, during the Giants game, Dak was really leaning towards the P in RPO, pulling the ball and throwing it on almost all the plays of that flavor. It may or may not have been deliberate, but that really sets up defenses to be a bit too quick to drop into coverage rather than waiting to see if it is a run. I think we may see a big run off one of those this week.

Now, lets look at the side of things that didn’t blow everyone away: The defense. Do you think we should be really worried, or do you anticipate them to get things cleaned up?

Michael: Well, I’m not “really worried” but there were definitely reasons for concern. The most puzzling thing to me is the run defense has fallen apart. Since holding the Eagles to 34 yards rushing in week 14 last year the Cowboys have given up 178 (Indy), 143 (Giants), 273 (Rams) and 151 (Giants) yards on the ground. That’s four times out of six where the defense has simply been run over. If you had told me back in early December of last year that the biggest concern for the Cowboys going into week 2 of this season would be the run defense, I’d have asked to share whatever it was you were taking.

But here we are. Yeah, Saquon Barkley is a rare talent, but this is officially a trend. In fact, three times out of those six games Dallas has given up 440 yards or more. Last year the Dallas defense didn’t surrender even 300 yards until week 4 and allowed an average of 313 yards up until that Indianapolis game.

Makes me wonder if the Colts, with Matt Eberflus, decoded the Cowboys defense and showed the rest of the league how to attack this unit. So yeah, I’m concerned. Again, just one game . . . but this defense has been trending in the wrong direction for a while now.

Tom: I will take the half-full side of this argument, and focus on holding the Giants to 10 points before the fourth quarter, when the Cowboys defense softened since the game was pretty much in the bag, plus only allowing New York to convert 2 of 11 third downs.

That’s not saying all is fine and dandy. They do need to tighten up all the things you brought up. I just got the sense they were not quite as ready to go as the offense. I think they will put up a better showing this week. And for once, they have a dynamic offense to help them out.

We’ll see. I just hope that win over the Giants wasn’t a mirage.

Michael: I get back to the one game. Likely the offense won’t be as good as we saw and the defense will be better. I’m still bullish that combined they’ll create a Super Bowl contender.