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3 & Out: A Passing Game Solution; LVE Time; More


FRISCO, Texas – As smarmy IMF chief Kittridge told Tom Cruise at a late-night Prague diner in the first 'Mission: Impossible' flick, I can understand you're very upset.

Kittridge didn't mean it. I do, Cowboys fans. I get it. We've seen three games without any consistent passing game production, and with largely a new cast around Dak Prescott, it's hard to pinpoint exactly where consistent production will come from. (Back to those "givens" head coach Jason Garrett references.)

With that, here are three things I know, think and question as a critical Week 4 looms.

I Know…

good things seem to happen when Tavon Austin is involved – on offense and special teams.

His 64-yard touchdown catch against the Giants in Week 2 remains, by far, the most explosive pass play in three games. He's accounted for two of the offense's four touchdowns, including its only score in Sunday's 24-13 loss to Seattle.

Yes, he only gained two yards on three catches (his other receptions went for minus yardage). But his presence gave the offense a spark early.

On the second drive of the game, Prescott faked a reverse to him and handed off to Ezekiel Elliott for 7 yards – a good design that showed Seattle's respect for Austin's speed. Next play, he took a jet sweep 18 yards and it looked like Dallas was in business near midfield.

Next play, the ball bounced off rookie Michael Gallup's hands and was intercepted.

Austin also had a 23-plus punt return nullified by a holding penalty at the start of the third quarter. Instead of taking over past the 40-yard line, the offense started at its own 11 and punted.

Austin's offensive play count has grown incrementally the first three games: 10, 18, and 20 against Seattle. If we're brainstorming ways to jump-start this thing, more snaps might be in order.

I Think…

this won't go over well with Angry Cowboys Fan right now – I can understand you're very upset – but I'm encouraged by what Dallas did in the running game. It's at least a start in getting this offense on track.

Granted, this is a different and perhaps less dynamic Seattle front than past years. But here's the thing: The Cowboys' core offensive principles actually did work against the Seahawks. They want to pound the ball with Zeke and create favorable down-and-distance for Prescott. No matter how many faces change on offense, that's their best bet for sustaining drives and scoring points.

Of the 13 third downs against the Seahawks, they were in third-and-5 or shorter six times. Only two first downs. They were 3-of-13 overall, and they're 8-of-34 this season – next-to-last in the league.

The offense has to convert those manageable situations. They also need the occasional deep play downfield like the 52-yarder Seattle got to Tyler Lockett, and like the 64-yarder Austin got against the Giants.

Elliott would've had a 32-yard touchdown catch and run if not for stepping out of bounds first. If he's running the ball well, though … again, it's a start.

I Have No Idea…

the last time a Cowboys first-round draft pick got less preseason buzz than Leighton Vander Esch. That's about to change.

Vander Esch did miss a good chunk of camp with a groin injury, and Randy Gregory's return/Jaylon Smith's standout play hogged a lot of headlines. But with Sean Lee (hamstring) out for now, the rookie is directly in the spotlight – and he looks ready for more snaps.

Vander Esch got a season-high 33 defensive plays against Seattle and responded with a game-best 11 tackles. He has been physical against the run and shown some good recognition skills, like when he shed a block from Will Dissly and stopped Chris Carson behind the line of scrimmage in the second quarter.

No one should minimize the impact Lee makes defensively from a communication standpoint alone. But Smith now has two years in the system. Joe Thomas is a veteran. And with Vander Esch now part of the rotation, they look better equipped to withstand Lee's absence.