Earlier today I found myself growing nervous about tonight’s game. Everything seemed great on paper and the national consensus was that Dallas would have little trouble with the injury-plagued Chicago Bears.
That’s what worried me.
I have often seen the Cowboys rise and fall to the level of their opponents. When the team has been heavily favored, I’ve become too accustomed to watching confidence turn to concern and eventually catastrophe.
Thankfully, that did not happen tonight. The Cowboys, led once again by the extraordinary efficiency of Dak Prescott and a breakout game from Ezekiel Elliott, played like a favorite and claimed a dominant victory.
Elliott had his first 100-yard game and tacked on 40 more, averaging 4.7 yards on 30 carries. Despite missing Tyron Smith for the entire game and losing La’el Collins about halfway through, Dallas still had its best rushing performance of 2016.
Prescott threw his first career touchdown pass with a 17-yard strike to Dez Bryant. He also ran a score in, the highlights in an otherwise brilliant performance. The ever-poised rookie completed 79% of his throws for 248 yards and ran for another 36 yards.
The Bears started to pile up yards against softer zones and prevent-style schemes late in the game. Dallas was up 24-3 at halftime and then 31-10 midway through the 4th Quarter. The game never felt in doubt for the Cowboys.
- There a few scary moments with injuries that appear to have been false alarms. On the first drive, Dez Bryant landed awkwardly after bringing in a pass and left the field for a short time. He reportedly had some knee soreness but was able to finish the game and eventually be the recipient of Prescott’s touchdown throw. Later in the game, Morris Claiborne remained on the ground after a collision with a teammate but was also able to return and close out the game without problems.
- Terrance Williams appears to be snakebitten right now. He couldn’t finish a 47-yard reception before fumbling the ball and giving it to Chicago. The poor guy just can’t seem to do a good thing without cancelling it out, even on the same play.
- Dan Bailey had a rare miss, going wide left on a 47-yard field goal from the right hashmark. The snap and hold looked good so the miss appeared to be all on Bailey. He is now 6-of-7 for 2016.
- Barry Church appears to be a much better player this year, thanks no doubt to the improved coverage ability of his fellow starting safety. Church made some key 3rd-down stops when he was able to remain closer to the line of scrimmage and follow the ball. His running mate, Byron Jones, also had a few nice breakups. This duo is looking good and will only get better if the pass rush improves.
- Speaking of the pass rush, Dallas did not register a sack and only a single QB hit. Maybe DeMarcus Lawrence will be the big domino that helps open things up for everyone else, but it is likely that this will remain a weakness all season.
- With seven more catches tonight, Cole Beasley leads all Cowboys with 20 receptions this year. He and Dak Prescott clearly have a great chemistry and I won’t be surprised if Beasley is the leading receiver for as long as Tony Romo is absent.
- Tyron Smith was a late scratch from the lineup with his lingering neck and back issues. Chaz Green played well other than a few penalties. Dallas will be very happy that they could rest veterans like Smith and Orlando Scandrick tonight while still getting the victory.
Lastly, I want to beef about Jason Garrett’s decision to throw the challenge flag on Jason Witten’s catch near the goal line. It was pretty obvious that Witten did not cross the pylon. Even if Garrett didn’t have our vantage point, his offense was going to get the ball with inches to go and against a defense that couldn’t do anything to stop you.
I get wanting Garrett to be aggressive, but I also want him to play the odds. I hated the onside kick attempt last week. It didn’t make sense in the moment based on the circumstances and the low chance of success. The same applies to throwing the challenge flag tonight.
There’s a thin line between aggression and recklessness. Garrett’s a smart guy but sometimes I think he gets too cute with his decision making.