FRISCO, Texas – Three quick topics on the heels of a 28-24 loss to Minnesota, with a critical stretch beginning Sunday in Detroit:
- Red Zone
we'd all be talking a lot more about Dak Prescott this week if the Cowboys had beaten Minnesota in the final two minutes.
Instead, the focus is on late-game decisions, specifically Ezekiel Elliott's two runs from the Vikings' 11 on the second-to-last drive. Why didn't the Cowboys keep throwing after Prescott went 6-of-7 for 59 yards to start the series? Anytime something doesn't work, second-guessing is fair game.
But this exact argument – the one I've seen over and over in my Twitter mentions since Sunday night at 10:23 p.m. – is also indicative of Prescott's remarkable progress in Year 4.
Remember the "Challenge accepted" game against the Giants in September 2018? This narrative about making the Cowboys beat you with Prescott's arm? It's officially debunked – especially when Amari Cooper goes full Jerry Rice Mode. (More on that below.)
Prescott's 46 pass attempts Sunday were the second-most of his career in a non-overtime game. He had 54 in the Cowboys' OT win over Philadelphia last year. He had 50 in a 2017 blowout loss to Denver in which Elliott ran 9 times for a career-low 8 yards.
The Vikings didn't sell out to stop the run on every single play Sunday, but they did allow some favorable matchups in the passing game. Prescott capitalized. He completed 9 passes of at least 20 yards, tying a season high from the Green Bay game. He also avoided the rush several times, buying extra time with his feet and making accurate throws on the move.
Make no mistake, Elliott's role is vital. The offense has been at its best with more of a 50/50 pass/run split.
But for anyone still holding onto the 'make Prescott beat you' theory, it's time to put that one to bed.
Jason Witten has played with some pretty good receivers – Hall of Famers, to be exact – and knows when one has entered the zone.
Here's what Witten said about Amari Cooper after his 11-catch, 147-yard, 1-touchdown performance against Minnesota:
"There's always times for a receiver when you kind of feel like you take this step where, 'I don't feel like I can be guarded.' I don't want to speak for him, but as a teammate and somebody that's studied a lot of route runners for a long time, he's at that place."
Witten's right. There is no route that Cooper can't win, whether it's a deep ball, underneath or somewhere in between. There is no sideline that can betray his feet. And, like a dominant pass rusher, he has a package of countermoves for a cornerback's particular method of coverage.
Through nine games, Cooper has already reached his career high for touchdowns in a season (7). He's on pace for a 1,508-yard season, which would shatter his 2016 career high in Oakland (1,153) and rank second all-time in Cowboys history behind Michael Irvin (1,603 in 1995).
Witten didn't speak for Cooper. When asked if, at his best, he reaches a point where he feels unguardable, the stoic wideout smiled.
"Yeah," he said, adding he has felt that way since he began sharpening his skills early in his career.
I Have No Idea…
how to fully explain the slow starts on offense – file that one in the Agatha Christie mystery section – but here's another key trend in the team's four losses.
Overall, the Cowboys' touchdown conversions in red zone and goal-to-go situations are much-improved from last season:
2019: 58 percent (17th)
2018: 48 percent (29th)
Goal To Go
2019: 71.4 percent (T-13th)
2018: 52 percent (32nd)
However, in four losses this season, they scored touchdowns on only 5-of-12 red zone trips (including two missed chances in the fourth quarter Sunday) and 4-of-6 goal-to-go situations. The breakdown:
vs. Vikings: 1-of-3; 0-of-1
vs. Jets: 2-of-4; 1-of-2
vs. Packers: 1-of-3; 1-of-2
vs. Saints: 1-of-2; 1-of-1
That's 41.7 percent in the red zone and 66.7 percent in goal-to-go. Over the entire season, those numbers would rank 27th and 20th in the league, respectively.
With three losses to the Vikings, Jets and Saints by a combined eight points, an extra score would've made all the difference.