After Sunday’s 16-8 season opening loss to the Carolina Panthers, which the offense looked inept for better part of three quarters and quarterback Dak Prescott looked nothing like a budding superstar looking to cash in on franchise quarterback money in the offseason, the Cowboys were at least consistent.
They blamed Prescott’s woes and that of the offense a host of penalties, sacks and miscues that kept them behind the chains and a hole for much of the game. The Cowboys committed 10 penalties for 85 yards and gave up six sacks. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who the offense is build around, had just 18 yards on seven carries in the first half.
The Cowboys mustered just 60 yards and three first downs in the first two quarters. They did not cross the 50-yard line until the third quarter.
So there is merit to the argument.
“We were behind the chains,” Prescott said. “It’s hard to move the ball when you are first and 15 and second and 20. We shot ourselves in the foot with self inflicted wounds. We put ourselves in holes and it was hard to get out of.”
Said coach Jason Garrett: “I think early on in the game the biggest issue that we had is we were behind the chains all the time We had some penalties that got us in second and long situations. We had sacks and some minus plays. I felt we were trying to survive these drives to much early on the game. They did good possessing the ball, limited our opportunities. But we didn’t get any rhythm going. That was the result of the minus plays. I thought it was better in the second half. We opened it more. We spread it out more. We felt it more like ourselves. Obviously, it was not good enough. We have to score than eight points.”
With that final sentence, Garrett summed up the woes of the Prescott-led offense that dates back to last season, which also reason for wholesale changes in the offseason, including a new receivers coach and a new offensive line coach.
The Cowboys have scored just 26 points in three games since Elliott returned from a six-game suspension at the end of last season. More to the point, this was the sixth time in the last nine games that the Cowboys scored 12 points or fewer.
Elliott’s return was supposed to make a difference for the run and the passing game.
But Prescott completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards in the game. He has now thrown for under 200 yards in seven of the his last nine games, dating back to last season.
So while the offense showed signs of life in the second half when Prescott completed 13 of 19 passes for 124 yards and scored on a two-point conversion after a four-yard run from Elliott, the final numbers remain ugly and frustrating.
The Cowboys revamped the receiver corps in the offseason with the release of Dez Bryant, the team’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions. They say they have more diverse group that is more Prescott-friendly because of their ability to run precise routes and be where they are supposed to be.
”I go back to those minus plays early on,” Garrett said. “We complete a screen, I think it was on the second play of the game, it’s a really good gain for us and then we get a penalty and now we are 2nd and 20. We had too many of those. I thought he had to do a lot of managing early on. We were out of rhythm. I thought when we started playing well in the second half, he was much better. He made some plays with his feet.”
To their credit, the receivers had no drops on Sunday. But they also provided no big plays down the field.
More importantly, they were undone by errant throws and inaccuracy from Prescott.
”I was off,” Prescott said. “That stuff you have to go back and look on film. I have to figure out why I was off, was I rushing it, did I feel pressure, what were the things that were causing it, was it just me missing the pass.”
The biggest miss came in the second quarter when tight end Blake Jarwin was running alone the left side line and Prescott under threw him.
”Yes, I saw him late,” Prescott said. “I think I initially pulled the ball down, was thinking run for it, looked up and saw him. As I said, a lot of momentum running the ball. Just have to make that throw.”
He will have to make that throw and a lot of throws if this offense is going to improve and for him cash in big.
Clarence E. Hill Jr. :@clarencehilljr