Eatman: It Starts With Zeke, But Stops With Dak 


ARLINGTON, Texas – Two weeks ago, Giants safety Landon Collins was just being honest. It came across as "trash talk" and "message board" material, but he wasn't wrong when he said his team had to stop Ezekiel Elliott and put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands in order to win.

Shot? Yeah, maybe.

But that's what a game plan should be against the Cowboys. You have to stop Zeke first because if you don't, not only will he rack up yards, but the other guys around him will be better.

Fast forward here to Sunday, where the Lions felt that loud and clear.

As my colleague David Helman pointed out after the game, this was a version of 2016 all over again.

Zeke was the best player on the field – by far – but the story is about Prescott and how he handled the situation in the end. That's why Dak won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors at the end of that 2016 season.

It just always comes down to the quarterback, just like this game did Sunday against Detroit. For all the record-breaking plays that Elliott made, it doesn't lead to a win if Prescott doesn't make those necessary plays in the end.

Now, granted, if Zeke doesn't play like that, Prescott isn't carrying this team to a win. So it all goes hand-in-hand here. We know who is the best player on this team is. It's not a secret and the Cowboys should stop trying to hide it at times.

Zeke is the guy. The ball should flow through him, and whatever happens after that should dictate what the Cowboys try to do.

But this is certainly not a "pick your poison" type of offense where you have to worry about all kinds of players on this team and where different guys can hurt you in any given game.

No, maybe on certain plays that can happen. Like Michael Gallup can come up with a big catch here, or Geoff Swaim gets loose over there or maybe Tavon Austin can use his speed to make a play.

But this thing starts with Zeke, of course. The difference? It's not a situation where it "starts and stops" with Zeke.

It stops with Dak. And that's where it stopped on Sunday. Zeke did all the dirty work he could possibly do. Yet, the Cowboys still found themselves needing a field goal in the final 2:17 of the game.

That's where you need your quarterback – no matter how the game has gone to that point – to put the team on his back and deliver.

For all the plays the Cowboys made on Sunday, an incomplete pass in the final two minutes might've been the biggest. Dak gets hit in the pocket, fumbles the ball, but alertly gets back there and not only recovers the ball, but has the ability to scoop it, turn up the field and get out of the pocket to fire an incomplete pass. That play alone changed the game from a third-and-16 with probably one less timeout to use, to a third-and-3 with 1:50 left.

Dak not only converts that play, but it sets up perhaps the biggest gain of the day – when he made his best throw of the game – a 34-yard rainbow pass to Zeke out of the backfield on a play that we really haven't seen before.

That play not only put the ball into field-goal position for the Cowboys, but gave Zeke 240 yards from scrimmage, the seventh-most in Cowboys history and the most by any NFL player this year.

But the play, at least that one, was made by Dak. We all know that deep balls aren't his best thing, and getting pinpoint accuracy on them at the same time is even harder. But with the game on the line, Dak lofted that pass right where it needed to be, giving a non-receiver the best chance to make an easy catch to win the game.

I'm not giving this team a pass for winning at the buzzer against the Lions. This 2-2 football team certainly hasn't found the magic potion now to go out there and become the team to beat in the NFC.

But after four games, they're right there in the hunt.

And they can thank Zeke – and Dak – for that.