(Editor's Note: DallasCowboys.com senior writer and pro wrestling aficionado Rob Phillips' new column, "Figure 4," identifies four key statistics each week that impact the Cowboys' on-field performance.)
FRISCO, Texas – Two games, two confusingly conflicting results.
The Cowboys looked symptom-free in their season-opening win over the Giants. Seven days later, the general reaction to their 42-17 drubbing in Denver was about as sunny as Stephen King's "It" remake.
It's too early to establish concrete conclusions about this football team, positive or negative, after two weeks. But, as the Cowboys look to move past their worst margin of defeat in four years, I've identified four stats that either must trend or end for the team to rebound.
50 Pass Attempts: Rarely Successful
The Cowboys pride themselves on offensive balance, but the Broncos turned them into a one-dimensional passing team by holding All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott to eight yards. (More on that later.) Dak Prescott threw a career-high 50 passes, and history says that's a sign of two things: You're either getting blown out and playing catch-up, or you can't run the football. Both were true Sunday.
For some perspective, the Cowboys' last two franchise quarterbacks, Tony Romo and Troy Aikman, attempted 50 passes in only 10 games over 23 combined seasons as starters. Their record in those games: 2-8.
62 (10/28/12 vs. Giants; lost 29-24)
50 (11/18/12 vs. Browns; won 23-20 in OT)
62 (11/22/12 vs. Redskins; lost 38-31)
51 (9/19/10 vs. Bears; lost 27-20)
55 (12/6/09 vs. Giants; lost 31-24)
50 (10/8/07 vs. Bills; won 25-24)
57 (11/28/98 vs. Vikings; lost 46-36)
52 (10/5/97 vs. Giants; lost 21-16)
53 (12/14/97 vs. Bengals; lost 31-24)
53 (1/15/95 vs SF; lost 38-28)
Excluding his 8 attempts in limited action in last year's finale against the Eagles, Prescott averaged right at 30 passes per game as a rookie. That's the balance the Cowboys want and expect to get. Now, back to Elliott…
0.9 Rushing Average: Major Anomaly
If Zeke and the Cowboys can't unlock the running game next Monday against the Cardinals (assuming his preliminary injunction stays in place), then we'll revisit this. But for now, it's hard to imagine another game where Elliott averages less than a yard – or gets fewer than eight carries, for that matter.
Please, give credit to the Broncos. They won the line of scrimmage over and over again – sometimes with an extra defender in the box, sometimes not. Elliott said after the game that he had never been contained like that at any level, and his memory was correct.
His rushing average was 6.6 yards at Ohio State, where he gained nearly 4,000 yards in three years. His least productive game was the Buckeyes' surprising loss to Michigan State in 2015, when he gained only 33 yards on 12 carries (2.8 average). The next week, he racked up 214 yards in a blowout win over rival Michigan. (Source: Fox Sports)
(Without checking the stat book, I'll just assume the Missouri Class 3 District teams never shut down Zeke in high school.)
The Cowboys are facing another outstanding defensive front at Arizona. But Elliott and the offensive line have too much talent, and they're too diligent about their craft, to be this quiet in the run game going forward.
40 Takeaways: Aiming High
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli expects a lot from his players, and the defense's goal this season is to double last year's takeaway total of 20, tied for 11th-most among NFL teams.
So much went wrong on defense against the Broncos, but one silver lining is the unit gave the ball back to its struggling offense twice: one fumble recovery, one interception. The Cowboys scored 14 of its 17 points off turnovers.
That's three takeaways in two games, on a very early pace for a season total of 24.
How realistic is 40?
Seventeen defenses have reached that number in the last 17 seasons, most recently the 2012 Bears (44) and Patriots (41). Two of the last four NFC champions, the 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Panthers, came close (39).
The last time a Cowboys team got to 40 takeaways: 43 in 1987, despite the players' strike shortening the season by a game.
(Source: Pro Football Reference)
4 Sacks: Elite Company For D-Law
DeMarcus Lawrence's back is healthy, and it shows. Through two games he's already halfway to his career high in sacks (8) from 2015, the last time he played a full season.
With two sacks against the Broncos, he became only the fifth Cowboys player to tally at least four sacks in the first two games of a season since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
The other four on the list: Charles Haley (5.5; 1994), Jim Jeffcoat (4; 1994); Harvey Martin (4; 1982); DeMarcus Ware (4; 2011).