It was the worst loss of the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott era for the Dallas Cowboys.
On Sunday, the Denver Broncos bested the Cowboys 42-17 at home with a dominant showing from their elite defense and balanced offense. The Monday reactions from Cowboys Nation were naturally all over the place, as the blowout loss seemingly had some quickly forgetting that we are still just a year removed from this Cowboys' core winning 13 games and the NFC East in 2016.
There is one narrative going around worth addressing following this game, and it is that the Broncos exposed the Cowboys by providing a “blueprint” for how to beat this Dallas team. This of course comes after the team's first loss of this young 2017 season, failing to take into consideration that it was a week one loss to the formidable Giants last year that sparked an eleven game winning streak for the Cowboys.
Like the Broncos now, the Giants were seen as a team that had the Cowboys' number after beating them twice during Prescott and Elliott's rookie campaign. With a win against an equally tough New York defense already under their belts before this humbling defeat in Denver, it is ridiculous to begin assuming that teams around the league suddenly know how to stop one of the most well-built and dynamic offenses in the NFL.
The Broncos' defense is good, very good. This unit deserves a ton of credit for what they did taking Ezekiel Elliott out of this game so early for the Cowboys on the ground, but this was also not entirely their doing. Drives extended by defensive penalties on Dallas, missed opportunities to force turnovers, and failure to gain any rhythm in the passing game allowed Denver's defense to do what they did to the Cowboys on Sunday by holding Elliott to a career low eight yards and forcing Dak Prescott to drop back a career high 50 times – resulting in two killer interceptions.
The Broncos made the Cowboys' offense look so uncomfortable in this game by simply doing what they've done best for a long time now, putting elite talent on the field at all three levels and matching up against the Cowboys in man coverage.
Look around the defensive depth charts for any other team in the NFL, and it becomes evident quickly that this hidden “secret” to beating the Cowboys is not a secret at all – instead a simple lack of adequate depth in the secondary to cover against Scott Linehan's passing offense while also committing the ridiculous numbers the Broncos did to the box in the running game.
The Giants are likely the closest to proving they could match what the Broncos did this week, but currently sitting at 0-2 with a loss on the record against the Cowboys already, it is clear that this once-elite defense has regressed a fraction while the offense holds the Giants back even more. It was the Broncos balanced offense exploiting an absolutely depleted Rod Marinelli defense (playing with two healthy CBs) that ultimately put Sunday's game out of reach for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys and Giants won't meet again at Metlife Stadium until week 14. Before then, the Cowboys will see three teams in the bottom ten of the NFL from 2016 in Yards Per Play Differential – an all important stat when it comes to a Cowboys team that wants to regain control of games by hitting on big plays on the ground while protecting leads with their zone defense looks.
Just because none of this came to fruition against a Denver Broncos team under former defensive coordinator and now Head Coach Vance Joseph – who said himself that the Cowboys' offense was easy to scout but difficult to actually stop – does not mean that much better days are not ahead for Prescott and Elliott running this Cowboys offense.
Preparing to do so against defenses that won't be able to man up on the outside nor get the best of Dallas' league-best offensive line the way Denver did, order can be restored quickly to a Cowboys offense that should hope to never throw the ball 50 times and hand it off only 11 times again anytime soon.
The Cowboys' next opportunity to start a new winning streak following a loss will come in prime time on Monday night at the Cardinals. Arizona's defense is certainly tough, but the distance between their unit and that of the Broncos' playing at its absolute best is tangible – as should the difference in performance from week two to three for the Cowboys in all three phases.
It is not any easier to beat these 1-1 Cowboys than it was when they were 1-1 at this time last year, and for once Monday can't get here soon enough as the team will look to remain in first place and move to 2-1 on the 2017 season.
Whether or not they do so will have nothing to do with a blueprint that's out there for Cardinals' Head Coach Bruce Arians or any other team remaining on the Cowboys' schedule to use.