Back before robots were so commonly used in place of people in the workforce, an actual human being was once the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Accustomed as we are now to the SATA-drive whir of Coachspeak XP being run on Coach Jason Garrett-Bot, it’s easy to forget that we were once treated to occasional bits of personality and wisdom during a coach’s press conference. One such bit of sagacity came from Hall of Famer Bill Parcells when he said, “You are what your record says you are.” It’s simple but erudite.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure Parcells’ famous axiom fairly applies to this 2019 season so far. After going .500 in back-to-back games against the NFC North — losing in maddening fashion to the Vikings at home thanks to some stupefying play-calling that killed a potential comeback and managing to just outscore the Lions offense on the road that looked unstoppable even without Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson — the Cowboys now sit at 6-4 and are just clinging to a division lead over the Eagles.
Somehow, 6-4 tells us very little about how good or bad this club really is. It could be argued that they should have as many as nine wins –– they’ve been in all but the Green Bay game with a chance to win or tie on their final drive. Then again, owing to the frustrating habit of falling behind early, they might have as few as three or four wins if not for a couple of those comebacks clicking. Dubs are dubs, and we’ll take every one, but the win total doesn’t tell the whole story when you consider that through 10 games, Dallas has yet to beat a team with a winning record. This team has problems — quite a few of them.
The defense, from whom so much was expected heading into the year, seems to have a ceiling of mediocrity. In their worst moments, they’ve made unproven quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Jeff Driskel look like Steve Young circa 1994. Then there’s the running game. For consecutive weeks, running back Ezekiel Elliott has looked like he was running into a concrete dividing wall. He’s failed to rush for more than 47 yards in either of the last two games, averaging an abysmal 2.5 yards per carry over that span. Not exactly what we were expecting from the highest-paid running back in the league.
It’s not all his fault, however. He does look a step or two slower than last year when he won the rushing title for the second time, but the highly vaunted (and equally well-compensated) offensive line has been downright awful in their zone blocking at times, and the gaps that you once could drive an earth-mover through now seem barely able to accommodate a grease-coated ferret. I’m not too worried about it – yet. Though the rushing title this year appears destined for either Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey, Zeke is still on pace for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. You could argue whether production like that is worth $90M or not.
The crazy thing is, the Cowboys haven’t really missed him. Thanks to quarterback and full-grown man Dak Prescott, the offense has averaged nearly 30 points and 420 yards through the air with Zeke bottled up these last two games. In four games this season, the young signal-caller has thrown for at least 375 yards and two touchdowns, a feat matched only by the great Joe Montana. Amazingly, Prescott is currently on pace for well over 5,000 yards and 38 total touchdowns. The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson are getting all the attention, but if Dallas had even a slightly better record, Prescott would be squarely in the MVP talk. Perhaps he still should be.
For more than five years now, the identity of the Dallas Cowboys has been that of a smash-mouth, “run the ball down your throats,” “you know what we’re going to do, but you can’t stop it”-type of running team. With the leap that Prescott has taken, along with arguably one of the best receiving corps in the league, the air game is currently dwarfing the ground game in importance. As owner Jerry Jones famously said after rookie running back Tony Pollard’s promising preseason performance in reference to Elliott who was in the middle of a holdout, “Zeke who?”
I’m curious to see which aspect of the Cowboys offense Bill Belichick will focus on for next week’s game against the Patriots in Foxborough. Belichick is known for identifying a team’s best strength and taking it away. The Cowboys’ reputation says that attention should be paid to Elliott. Recent history suggests, however, that Belichick may want to instead focus on trying to slow down Prescott. It will be interesting to see if he can.