Cowboys Top Giants 20-13 With A Fresh Set Of Solutions

Mike Fisher
September 16, 2018 - 11:34 pm
Ezekiel Elliott

USA Today

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ARLINGTON (105.3 The Fan) - Maybe the more casual Dallas Cowboys observer, or the one most prone to knee-jerking, or the one most susceptible to the national media's penchant for Cowboys con games, thought Sunday at AT&T Stadium had something to do with controversial receiver Dez Bryant being in this building last week (alongside Jerry Jones attending a Beyonce/Jay-Z concert) or had something to do with controversial receiver Josh Gordon being in this building in a future week (which isn't the plan).

But in truth, the Cowboys went into the visit from the Giants acknowledging that their offensive problems are in-house -- and that the solutions are, too, as evidenced by Sunday's 20-13 Dallas win.

“We all know the type of player Dak is,'' said Ezekiel Elliott of his QB Prescott, who spend the last week taking some heat for poor play. "He came out and showed them, I think he took over the game. Dak definitely took over the game and he controlled it.”

Dallas managed to score just once in the Week 1 loss at Carolina, a homely 16-8 final. You score eight points, the QB takes heat. Solutions for this week?

After spending the week talking to players and coaches, I came into the game with three basic thoughts:

1) Start with the need to unleash Dak the runner. In his rookie year he rushed for six TDs, and in five games he totaled 35 yards rushing or more.

I noted going in, there is risk here. (Running QBs in the NFL can get destroyed by defenders, unlike in college, where the QB might be bigger, stronger, faster than the ends or linebackers chasing him). But the risk, I believed was mitigated by the reward of not being 0-2.

Oh, what is that 0-2 start risk? Being 0-2 results in a team having an 88-percent chance of missing the playoffs, of finishing with an average of 5.6 victories and, in the case of Dallas, a team that ends up firing its coach.

2) To some extent, acknowledge the Giants' point in entering the game with a stated belief: Focusing on Ezekiel Elliott would mean putting things on Dak's -- and that's the way to beat the Cowboys offense.

Prescott's response?

"Challenge accepted,'' he said. "Challenge accepted.''

Valiant enough. But Zeke is the foundation of everything Dallas does, and is, on offense. That didn't have to change.

What did?

3) This club's stone-age approach to play-calling (and maybe its personnel to match).

I spent last week challenging coach Jason Garrett and coordinator Scott Linehan's approach to "creativity.'' I cited play-calling and play-design "conservatism'' as a problem in the Carolina loss. RedBall disagreed -- but, hey, in that game, Dallas tight ends got 82 snaps while "Web-Back'' Tavon Austin (this team's offseason embodiment of "creativity'') touched the ball once.

Meanwhile, Linehan argued back, "It’s hard to be super-creative when you're having loss-yardage plays,'' citing Dallas playing "behind the chains'' so often against the Panthers.

But really ... when it's second-and-12 ("behind the chains'') an offense should suddenly dump its "creativity''? Should that be the exact time to turn the "Creativity Switch'' to "on'' rather than to "off''?

There are ways to be a "Feed Zeke'' offense while also working to keep a defense off-balance. That didn't have to mean running triple-reverses. It was going to have to mean an upgrade in execution but also an upgrade in play-calling and play design.

And what occurred here? Enough RPOs featuring Dak's legs that he ran seven times for 45 yards (supplementing his careful 16-of-25 passing for 160). A first-possession 64-yard TD bomb to Austin. A reverse to Austin. A couple of targets for Rico Gathers. Oh, and Zeke still got 17 carries for 78 yards and a TD, along with five receptions.

But again, Dak didn't get sacked, not once, in part because he was on the run on purpose. (Meanwhile, the Cowboys sacked New York QB Eli Manning six times.)

"After one week, it seems like the whole world jumped ship, hitting the panic button already,'' receiver Cole Beasley said before the game. "But that’s not us in this locker room.''

With the win, Dallas staves off, for at least the next seven days, suggestions that it should fire its coach, change its offense, alter its organizational philosophy. No, Jerry isn't going to quit bumping into Dez in public places, and when he does, it doesn't mean Dallas is re-signing Bryant. No, the Cowboys aren't interested in the tragic Browns figure Gordon, no matter how many times Bristol tells you otherwise.

Major alterations were not necessarily here. But finding more volume in the existing playbook was. And now, standings-wise, Dallas gets to start over, with another set of solutions in which to believe.