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Spagnola: Spreading That Perfection Around


LANDOVER, Md. – We now learn perfection can rear its beautiful head in many ways.

Why last week it was a perfect quarterback rating, Dak Prescott finishing with 158.3, the achievable highest.

This Sunday, here at FedExField, Dak finished the game by completing 18 consecutive passes, going a perfect 14 of 14 in the second half against the Washington Redskins.

Wide receiver Devin Smith, signed as a futures free agent back in January, a guy who had not played a down of football since Jan. 1. 2017, had a perfect performance of his own, catching all three passes thrown his way, including that 51-yard post pattern leaving burn marks on the mouthy Josh Norman for a much-needed touchdown, his first in the NFL since Nov. 29, 2015 with the Jets.

How about Jason Witten, turning into the Ponce de Leon of football at age 37, seemingly having found the Football Fountain of Youth, streaking so far to a touchdown a game, head coach Jason Garrett agreeing, saying of Witten on a TD-a-game pace, "Yeah, how 'bout that."

Let's not forget about Ezekiel Elliott, pounding, pounding, pounding away, carrying the ball 23 times for 111 yards, and finishing in perfect fashion with the put-away two-yard touchdown run before fashioning a perfect ending to this game, pounding the last nail in the Redskins' coffin with a 27-yard third-down run to allow the Cowboys to perfectly execute victory formation one last play.

Cowboys 31, Redskins 21, a perfect ending to a perfect day before 75,128, a huge chunk of that Cowboys fans who celebrated loudly as the Redskins fans headed to the exits with five minutes still remaining.

Oh, and the Cowboys come home with a perfect 2-0 record, only the second time they have started off a season winning the opening two games in these past 11 seasons, giving themselves a chance this coming Sunday against 0-2 Miami to begin 3-0 for the first time since 2008 – and that would be only the second time since starting 5-0 in 2007. Before that? Uh, you'd have to go back to the 3-0 start of 1999.

Why when telling Amari Cooper how Dak went a perfect 14 for 14 in the second half of Sunday's game, the wide receiver said, "That's just surgery right there."

He might as well have been talking about the entire Cowboys offense, how for the second week in a row those guys have carved up a defense, the 968 total yards No. 1 in the NFC and No. 2 in the NFL.

Because after getting off to a false start against the Redskins (0-2), going three-and-out on two of the first three possessions, with Dak being intercepted for the first time this season on the other, this Cowboys offense showed signs of this being for real, beginning the season scoring 35 and 31 points, meaning going back to the final eight games of last season they now have scored at least 27 points in seven of the past 10 regular season games, winning nine of those 10.

"I give credit again going into last year," Prescott said. "I think it happened last year and started last year. I was just being able to take that and progress through the offseason and learn more. Obviously, it's great coaching from Kellen (Moore) and Coach Garrett. As I said before, when you have great players around you it just makes everything fun and a little bit easier."

Almost elementary so far, with the Cowboys putting up a two-game total of 76 points in different ways.

Last week, the Cowboys were slinging it around, Dak throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns to carve out that perfect QB rating.

Sunday, Dak threw for a healthy 269 yards and three touchdowns on just 30 attempts, completing 86.6 percent of his passes. And in this game, the Cowboys ran the ball down the Redskins' supposedly stud running defense's throat. Why they finished with 213 yards rushing. And it wasn't just Zeke, either. Dak ran for 69 yards and rookie Tony Pollard, in 17 snaps, another 22 yards on just four carries, and would have scored a touchdown himself if not for a holding penalty wiping out his nifty three-yard run.

Remember Michael Irvin's quote from last week: "By land or by air."

Pick your poison, baby.

And now it looks like with these wide receivers, defenses might be faced with picking their poison in coverage. Want to try eliminating Cooper, then Michael Gallup will pop up to surprise you. Remember those two each going for 100 yards in the season-opening victory over the Giants. But maybe he's a surprise no more, his two-game total of 11 catches for 226 yards, now fourth in NFL receiving yardage.

Better not forget about slot receiver Randall Cobb, now in two games pulling in nine for 93 yards, proving to be a real beast running routes inside.

Plus, this might just be a Cowboys rarity, a fourth receiver emerging in this game: Smith, the former Ohio State wide receiver showing signs of why defenses better not think he's an afterthought and just why the Jets thought enough of him to draft in the second round of 2015.

While the 51-yard post pattern that left burn marks on Norman was his first touchdown since Nov. 29, 2015, it also represented his first NFL catch since Dec. 24 of 2016. See, Smith had spent the past 2½ seasons battling through two torn ACL's to the same knee.

"I was low, I wouldn't even go outside," Smith said of spending the 2018 season out of football, while seeing his buddies from college playing on TV. "I wouldn't even leave the house, just because I was so down on myself. Watching all my former teammates that I played college with, all my friends that I know in the NFL playing, and me watching at home, it really hurt."

Well, if you remember in the offseason the Cowboys made a priority of collecting speedy wide receivers. Smith was one of them. And back then when asking receivers coach Sanjay Lal if this guy could still run like he did at Ohio State, he said, affirmative. So did Dak, actually remembering plays Smith made while at Ohio State.

Well, not only did the Redskins discover Smith still has speed, he also showed he is not a one-trick pony, catching two slant passes from Dak, a seven-yarder and later a 16-yarder.

"It's an inspiration," Dak says of Smith's comeback.

Sort of a perfect story, too, to emerge in this game, and it gets better. The Cowboys were waiting for the right time to run that post with the X-receiver. But they wanted to run it later in the game when maybe Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins' best pass rusher, wasn't as fresh. And they wanted to run the play from the left hash, meaning leaving Kerrigan on the Skins left in more space.

And it just so happened that when the play was called, and if they got the coverage they were hoping for – they did – Smith, the Cowboys fourth receiver, just happened to be the X-receiver on that play with Gallup taking a breather.

Sometimes indeed themoon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

The bottom line? Defenses are finding out playing this Cowboys versatile offense is like that Whac-A-Mole game at the State Fair of Texas. Pound one of those suckers down, and another one pops up.

"We want to attack in different ways," Garrett says. "Everybody is alive."

Sort of like this Cowboys offense Sunday against the Redskins, running the ball 34 times for 213 yards, throwing the ball 30 times for 269 yards, then in two games catching seven touchdown passes and being sacked just one time.

Totally perfect combinations.