Five thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys, who are 4-1 after beating the Cincinnati Bengals:
There is a quarterback controversy in Dallas. Dak Prescott’s surprising play has sparked a referendum on Tony Romo’s starting quarterback job. It’s understandable for the fans and the media to be flocking to the side of the shiny new toy. Those two groups are prone to be fickle. What’s shocking is the number of former NFL players who are coming out strongly against Romo. And the number is rising every week. Count Brett Favre, Jay Novacek, Deion Sanders, LaDainianTomlinson and Terry Bradshaw among others firmly in the Prescott camp. Sure, it has a lot do with riding the hot hand that is Prescott, but it also has a lot to do with a continued lack of respect for what Romo has done. Romo is the Cowboys’ all-time leading passer in terms of yards, touchdowns, quarterback rating and comeback wins. He is 15-4 in his past 19 starts. You would think more former players would not only respect the success but also the blood, sweat, tears and bones Romo has laid on the line for the Cowboys since 2006. But the overriding issue to me is that Romo is continuing to be dogged by his lack of playoff success. If Romo had a Super Bowl ring on his résumé, a former Super Bowl quarterback such as Favre, who was run out of Green Bay kicking and screaming by a shiny new toy, wouldn’t be so quick to cast him aside. Of course, this is the main reason Romo wants to come back and lead the Cowboys to some postseason success — to fix that hole in what would otherwise be a Hall of Fame résumé.
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Credit offensive line coach Frank Pollack for Ezekiel Elliott’s 60-yard touchdown run at the start of the third quarter in Sunday’s 28-14 victory against Cincinnati. Coach Jason Garrett said Pollack noticed how the Bengals were playing the naked bootleg off the play-action fake from Prescott. The ends were coming straight up field and even hit Prescott in the face once in the first half. So Pollack came in at halftime, made a few adjustments to the design and demanded the Cowboys call it on the first play of the second half. The result was the 60-yard touchdown run when Elliott went untouched up the middle, turning a 21-0 halftime lead into a 28-0 laugher. It was an example of how teams are already adjusting their schemes to account for Prescott’s mobility. It’s also an example of the positive impact Pollack is having on the offensive line in his second full season of coaching the unit. He was the assistant under Bill Callahan before taking over the lead job in 2014 when Callahan bolted for the Washington Redskins. The line is playing as was expected in 2015 when the Cowboys claimed that any running back could put up big numbers in the offense. Well, Elliott is not just any running back. He has the makings of something special. The dominant play of the line is the foundation for the team’s success. Credit Pollack.
Remember when the Cowboys’ defense was considered the team’s weak link? Well, a funny thing has happened en route to the team’s 4-1 mark. The Cowboys’ bend-but-don’t-break defense has not broken. It has given up a few big plays. But it has not been gashed via the run or the pass on a consistent basis in any game this season. The unit has not allowed a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver this season. Only the Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings can say that this season. No one questions the prowess of the Vikings’ defense. Might be time to start giving the Cowboys a little credit as well.
When the Cowboys talk about Prescott’s impressive awareness for a rookie, it usually concerns his ability to avoid the rush, make good throws down the field, avoid interceptions and make correct decisions with the offense. But they should also add guardian of Elliott. Prescott’s concern for Elliott is one reason he took a hard hit from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Prescott wanted to slide, but didn’t slide as fast as he could because he didn’t want to kick Elliott, who was blocking in front of him. “I was a little in between,” Prescott said. “But I felt if I slid I would kick Zeke. He set a good screen for me, and I didn’t want to kick his legs out underneath him.” Talk about a team player.
The Cowboys under Jason Garrett have made no secret of their preference for first-round picks from power conferences because they have played in front of big crowds under intense pressure. Garrett’s first pick in 2011 was tackle Tyron Smith from USC. He took cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU in 2012, center Travis Frederick from Wisconsin in 2013, guard Zack Martin from Notre Dame in 2014, safety Byron Jones from Connecticut in 2015 and Elliott from Ohio State in the spring. Only Jones doesn’t fit the bill of a power conference product. But this is more than a trend; it’s a game plan.