FRISCO, Texas – It was only one game, but this feels a bit like uncharted territory.
By their lofty standards, the Cowboys did not run the ball particularly well on Sunday. They managed just 80 yards as a team, with Ezekiel Elliott accounting for 53 of those. Elliott did find the end zone, but his longest run of the day was just 10 yards, and the Cowboys' offense averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.
And yet, the offense was dynamic – explosive, even. With the New York Giants loading up to stop the run, Dak Prescott torched their secondary to the tune of 405 yards.
To be clear, it's not the first time Prescott has had success through the air. But it really might be the first time in recent memory that the Cowboys have been so explosive with such a small showing from their run game.
As might be expected, Elliott himself is a fan.
"It's really exciting to see those guys on the outside gashing like that," he said Wednesday. "Now teams are going to have to play us different. They might not be able to put an extra guy into the box. It's going to open things up for the run game."
For a guy who commands the attention of every defensive coordinator he faces, that's got to sound sweet for Elliott. Sunday wasn't the first time the All-Pro running back has been faced with loaded boxes, and it won't be the last.
But what was new was how effectively the Cowboys made their opponent pay for that added attention. Prescott exploited a New York secondary that was starting a rookie cornerback, completing an outstanding 78 percent of his passes and finishing with a perfect passer rating.
"Last week they were playing it tough in the box and we were opening up and taking shots," Elliott said. "If that's working, we're going to keep going back to it until they do something to stop it."
That's where the fun begins. If the Cowboys can continue to throw the ball effectively, defenses will have no choice but to pay more respect to that aspect of the offense.
Meanwhile, Elliott has led the league in rushing two of the last three years – and that's happened primarily with opposing defenses geared up to slow him down. If opponents start clearing out to cover the Cowboys' passing attack, it can only mean good things for a Pro Bowl running back.
"When a defense sells out to stop the run and you have weapons on the outside like we have, if a team is going to do that then you have to be able to take advantage of that in the passing game," said Travis Frederick. "And then, if a team spends more time on the passing game, then you have to be able to take advantage of the run game."
That's the chess match of football. The Washington Redskins now have a full game of tape on the Cowboys' passing attack, but they're also aware Elliott hasn't gone anywhere. They employ one of the stoutest fronts in the NFC, but it'll be interesting to see how they use it.
It stands to reason they've got a close eye on the Cowboys' passing game – and that can only mean good things for Elliott on the ground.
"We're so balanced and have so many playmakers around the field, it puts a lot of stress on the defense," Elliott said. "The better Kellen can draw the plays up and get them in stressful situations and just kind of stress the defense, the better off it's going to be."