Judgements XI: In Dallas, Big D stands for Dak as Cowboys escape Lions' den

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Clark Judge

The Dallas Cowboys reportedly had a team meeting last week, and, while no one is sure what was said it’s, clear what was done: The offense was put in the hands of its quarterback, Dak Prescott.

OK, so that’s not exactly a revelation. Prescott has been a star since taking over for Tony Romo. But he’s always shared top billing with running back Ezekiel Elliott, and, if truth be told, the Cowboys were more about Elliott than they were Dak.

But not now.

Look at the past two weeks, and you’ll see what I mean. The Cowboys didn’t rely on Elliott to carry them on offense. They turned to Prescott, and all he did was throw for 841 yards, including 441 vs. Detroit on Sunday, to become this season's NFL leader.

He threw 46 times Sunday. He threw 46 times the week before vs. Minnesota. And he produced a total of six TDs. What's more, he averages 308.6 passing yards per game -- more than Romo, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Don Meredith or any Dallas quarterback in any season of his career -- and is on pace to finish with 5,154 yards.

"Dak's playing the best football I've ever seen him play," said Elliott.

Now let's look at Elliott. He ran for 47 yards against Minnesota … with a long of 6 … and touched the ball 22 times. He ran for 45 vs. Detroit … with a long of 8 … and touched it 18 times.

The point is: There’s a new sheriff in town, and it’s not Zeke. Not now it’s not.

Where coach Jason Garrett once had the run set up the pass, it’s exactly the opposite today. Dak has emerged as the go-to guy on offense, and pass the stat sheet, please: The Cowboys the past two weeks have thrown … or tried to throw … more than twice as often as they’ve run (94 snaps to 46).

OK, they won once and lost once. Nevertheless, there’s a different look to these Cowboys, and they’re back on top of the NFC East. Now, let’s see where they go. Because the real test is in front of them: New England next week ... in Foxboro ... where the Patriots won their last 20, including the playoffs.

“We need to say it,” tweeted former quarterback and Cowboys' radio analyst Babe Laufenberg. “Need to pass to set up the run. When Garrett talks about wanting to ‘balance’ the offense now, he means distributing the football equally to WR, TE and RB in the passing game.”

Bingo.

SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

1. The MVP race is still a two-man race, but it’s not Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffrey now. It’s Wilson and Lamar Jackson, with Jackson the trendy favorite.

2. Houston’s Bill O’Brien has plenty of company when he says, “I have no idea what pass interference is anymore.” Neither do officials. If they did, they would’ve flagged Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey for his flagrant fourth-down mugging of DeAndre Hopkins. But they didn’t. And when O’Brien challenged the call, New York didn’t budge, either. There’s a moral there: Unless a tractor-trailer collides with your receiver, officials won’t give you what you want … or deserve.

3. Denver doesn’t need another quarterback. It needs a closer. That’s the fourth time this season the Broncos have blown a fourth-quarter lead.

4. If it must, New England can win in spite of Tom Brady. Happened in Buffalo earlier this season. Happened again Sunday. I’ve seldom seen Brady miss so many layups, but the Patriots hung on … surprise, surprise … because of their defense. Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson last week compared it to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and that’s a stretch. But it was good enough to shut out the Eagles the last 42 minutes and withstand an underwhelming Brady performance.

5. It might be time to hold Kirk Cousins in a different light. Yeah, I know about his record vs. winning teams and his failures in big games. But he’s been white hot the past seven weeks, winning six of seven while throwing 18 TDs and one interception and putting up ratings of 111.5 or better in all but one. Only now, he just upped the bar -- rallying his team from a 20-point second-half deficit Sunday to a stunning 27-23 comeback over Denver in a victory that might, just might, change the narrative about him.

THIRD-AND-20

1. If Colin Kaepernick wasn’t good enough for the NFL three years ago, why would someone jump for him now? Answer: Someone won’t. Kaepernick’s workout was nothing more than a PR stunt … by the NFL and by Kaepernick.

2. It's hard to buy the Eagles as a playoff threat when you look at their wide receivers. There isn't one you ... or Carson Wentz ... can trust. Nowhere was that more apparent than Sunday's game with New England, and it's a trend that won't go away. In six of their past seven games, Eagles' wide receivers have no more than 75 yards, and that's a problem. Worse, their best playmaker outside of tight end Zach Ertz -- running back Miles Sanders -- touched the ball only four times in the second half Sunday. Makes no sense.

3. The Raiders are more than 6-4. They could be in first place in the AFC West by Tuesday morning. Of course, that’s contingent on a Kansas City loss. Nevertheless, now you know why Brett Favre makes Jon Gruden his Coach of the Year. Not me. I’m going with John Harbaugh, with Kyle Shanahan and Sean Payton right behind.

4. Carolina’s Kyle Allen has hit the wall. Four interceptions Sunday. Nine the past four games. 1-3 in his last four starts. We need to talk.

5. Houston’s Deshaun Watson should audition for the next Allstate commercial … as the victim of Mayhem. The poor guy’s been sacked at least six times in seven games the past two seasons – or more than twice as many as the next closest quarterbacks (Josh Rosen, Russell Wilson and Marcus Mariota, each with three).

6. Now I know what to give Denver’s Vic Fangio for Christmas: A watch. Denver’s clock management in the last minute was abysmal.

7. Apparently, John Brown’s soul is marching on. The Bills’ receiver has 50 yards in catches in each of his past 10 games.

8. The Saints’ Michael Thomas is on track to set an NFL record with 150 catches … and this in a season where the Saints lost Drew Brees for five games.

9. The Bears are toast, and so is their quarterback. Mitch Trubisky was benched in the last three minutes because of what coach Matt Nagy said is a hip injury. But there's something here that doesn't feel right, and it's confidence in an underachieving quarterback. Nagy said he appreciates Trubisky's "toughness," but he can't appreciate his performance. Time to admit the obvious: GM Ryan Pace screwed the pooch when he traded up to make Trubisky the second pick of the 2017 draft. The draft can be, as NBC's Al Michaels put it, "a crap shoot" ... but not with the second overall pick.

10. Why it’s advisable not to always rely on numbers: Matt Ryan just moved into the Top 10 of NFL quarterbacks in all-time passing yards. Nice. But here’s the question: Do you consider Ryan in the top 10 of all-time quarterbacks? No? How about the top 20? Top 30? Neither do I.

11. Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins says, “We need someone in New York deciding calls,” but that’s the problem. Someone in New York is.

12. Let’s put the Jets’ three-game win streak in perspective. It was, in order, vs. a then-winless Miami team, a two-win Giants’ team and a Washington club that stinks. That’s three opponents that today are a combined 4-26. OK, so a win is a win is a win. But, as the Cowboys’ Robert Quinn might say, this stretch was nothing but Charmin. Soft. Tissue.

13. Two words to define Jameis Winston: Coach. Killer. With another four interceptions he has an NFL-high 18 for the season … and 76 for his career, or more than one per game. Time for Bruce Arians to whisper into the ears of another quarterback.

14. Say goodbye to “Tanking for Tua.” This weekend put a lid on that conversation.

15. Most people know how much Minkah Fitzpatrick solidified the Steelers’ secondary. But what about Marcus Peters in Baltimore? Same impact.

16. Kaepernick is waiting for the NFL to “stop running,” but tell the Colts not to pay attention. They’re winning because they are running … piling up 264 yards vs. Jacksonville, including a franchise-record two 100-yard games by running backs. That’s the good news. The bad: They just lost Marlon Mack (fractured hand) for Thursday’s division showdown with Houston.

17. The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 finish in 2017 and hired New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Since then, they’re 9-16-1. When will people learn? There’s no reason to hire a New England assistant unless he comes attached to Tom Brady.

18. Arizona GM Steve Keim can exhale. Kyler Murray looks like the real deal.

19. If there are reservations about San Francisco they usually involve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo … except, that is, when he plays Arizona. Of his four 300-yard career games, two are vs. the Cards. And both this season. He also has a career-best four TD passes in each of those two games and just threw for a career-high 424 yards against … who else? … Arizona.

20. So Brady wasn't Tom Terrific. He still won, and why should anyone be surprised? He’s 45-12 in games immediately following a loss, including 19-4 in his last 23, with 103 TDs and 13 interceptions.

MY TOP FIVE

NEW ENGLAND – Brady says he can play until he’s 65; wants to team with Gronk’s kids.

SAN FRANCISCO – Good week for 49ers: They catch Cards; cops catch Montana vandal.

BALTIMORE – Lamar Jackson or crab cakes at Obrycki’s? Too close to call.

NEW ORLEANS – The NFC South? It’s the Big Easy from here on out.

SEATTLE – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has interest in buying team, delivering it to your doorstep today.

MY BOTTOM FIVE

AL RIVERON – Man up, and just tell us that officials blew that PI call in Baltimore.

CINCINNATI – They’re sinking so fast reports have them moving to Venice.

WASHINGTON … Circling the Dwayne.

N.Y. GIANTS – Big Blue? That’s the collective outlook of fans.

MIAMI – On second thought, let's not forget the draft. Just lose, baby.

STAT THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME

Sunday marked the first time in Tom Brady’s career that another Patriot (Julian Edelman) had more TD passes when Brady played the entire game. Edelman threw the lone TD pass in New England’s 17-10 defeat of Philadelphia.

ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

Jamal Adams became only the second defensive back in the past decade to produce three sacks in one game. Ten games into the season, he’s set a single-season franchise record for sacks (6) by a defensive back, and his 11-1/2 career sacks are the most by any Jets’ defensive back ever.

AND ONE THAT MAY INTEREST BOTH OF US

Teams trailing by 20 or more points at the half were 0-99 the past five seasons. Then the Minnesota Vikings showed up.

SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET

BALTIMORE QB LAMAR JACKSON. Sunday was supposed to be an MVP showdown, except only one MVP candidate showed up … and you’re looking at him. Jackson shredded Houston and became the first Ravens’ quarterback ever with multiple four-touchdown games in the same season. He threw five vs. Miami in the season opener. He threw four Sunday as the Ravens won their sixth straight game. “He can do anything out there,” said wide receiver Seth Roberts. “He’s just freaky, and we’re on the ship with him.”

GOLD JACKET QUOTE

“Now I’d like to introduce y’all to the man, the myth, the legend, the MVP front runner … if anybody got something different to say about that, then come see me. I’m right here in B-more.” – Ravens running back Mark Ingram introducing Lamar Jackson at Sunday’s news conference.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE, PART DEUX

“Just a comedy of terrible football.” -- Carolina TE Greg Olsen’s description of Carolina’s 29-3 loss to Atlanta.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE, TAKE THREE

"There's something about these people. They're nuts. They're the closest thing to me I've ever seen. -- Oakland coach Jon Gruden on the Oakland fans.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (6)
No. 1-1
Rasputin
Rasputin

On the other hand, the Cowboys are 4-0 this year when Dak attempts 32 or fewer passes and 2-4 when he attempts over 32, with both those wins coming over bad Giants and Lions teams, and yesterday's victory being by only one score.

I think what matters is versatility, the ability to run and pass well, and the willingness to change gears if called for. Dallas has infamously struggled so far this year against good non-divisional opponents on the road, despite often winning games like that in recent years at places like Seattle and Pittsburgh. They won those games with the run heavy approach. They may still need to do that sometimes.


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