Sullivan: Dak's Improvement, Upcoming Schedule, Iconic Loss Among Thoughts

Here's what befuddles me, and really not just the last few days. This has been an ongoing befuddlement for some time. Why are Cowboys "fans" like they are? And it's not just social media, either. That's an easy copout, but when I first moved down here from Boston right out of college, in 1997, I was absolutely blown away by the negativity, the personal affront, of those who follow the team.

Also, they don't always know what they think they know. I mean, really, has anyone ever blamed the offense when a baseball team scores 10 runs and loses? Has anyone ranted and raved about a hockey team's lack of judgment and scoring in a 7-6 defeat? Yet this has been an ongoing theme for the last decade with the Cowboys.

Sure, everyone has seen the statistic by this point: Since 2010, the Cowboys are 15-10 when scoring at least 30 points at home. That's 60 percent. The other 31 NFL teams are winning almost 90 percent of home games when scoring 30 points. That's a staggering statistic.

A reasonable mind would see that and think, *Wow, that has to be a combination of defensive and special teams issues, maybe some bad luck thrown in. *Instead, in the aftermath of the Green Bay loss on Sunday, there were a lot of folks blaming Dak Prescott, who for me played the best game of his pro career. Minus the interception, which was 100 percent not his fault, Dak's passer rating would have been 117.7. He led the offense to 31 points on the six drives that weren't ended by halftime, the end of the game and the pick-6. And for the first time in his career, Prescott registered four total touchdowns.

It's been so impressive, at times overwhelmingly, how much Dak has improved from last season. His arm strength, which at times as a rookie was lacking, was right there with Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, on the run, rolling to both sides and timing patterns. Go back and rank the top-10 throws from the game. It's going to be five from Rodgers and five from Dak. Kid went up against the greatest quarterback I've ever seen play and went throw for throw, run for run.

The lone mistake Dak made came on the now infamous second-and-2 pass to Dez Bryant. The play-call itself didn't make sense because Green Bay had a timeout remaining. Have to force them out of stoppages. There is no way they score a touchdown rather than a field goal without that timeout.

However, I'm not blaming Dak for the call. My issue was that he snapped the ball with 11 seconds on the play clock. The Cowboys had two timeouts remaining. They should have run it down to a second, would have been 1:14 on the game clock, and called one of their two remaining timeouts.

As for the absurd, ridiculousness of those saying Dak should have slid at the 1-yard line rather than scoring on the following snap, please stop. Just stop. No more. Game, set and match, the argument doesn't have an ounce of merit.

This wasn't Brian Westbrook going down when the Eagles were winning the game. Dallas was losing. To win the game, you need to score. You have an opportunity to score, you score. Who knows what happens on the next play, a holding penalty, a sack, a strip fumble, Dak could have been abducted by aliens, whatever.

Back to my original point, about how upset Cowboys fans take losses, the Red Sox were knocked out of the playoffs on Monday. I've been a fan my entire life. I was disappointed, was really hoping for a deciding Game 5, but I wasn't angry. They played hard, it was obvious how much the players themselves wanted to win, and it was a fun six-month season.

The Cowboys under Jason Garrett always play hard. Their disappointment after defeats is obvious when one walks in the locker room. They are an incredibly likeable group, think fans would agree with that.

Also, it's five games. Dallas is 2-3. The season is not finished. If the Cowboys end up 6-10, then yeah, it's time to be concerned, it's time to reevaluate the organization, the coaching staff, how two times in three seasons they started with Super Bowl aspirations and went in the tank. That would be valid. Right now, it's just too early.

The offense is scoring points, top quarter of the league on that front. The defense is allowing the fourth-most points per game. There are some positive signs, though. Dallas ranks sixth with 16.0 sacks and as long as DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving remain healthy, they should continue that pass rush. Much like the last few years, they aren't forcing turnovers, just four through five games.

Sean Lee should return at San Francisco in Week 7; that certainly will help. Could make the case the Cowboys would have won these last two games if he were on the field. On the whole, Dallas remains among the healthiest teams in the league at this point.


Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • Rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis could not be more impressive. By season's end, if the league did a redraft, I'm pretty sure he would be a top-10 selection. There's a chance if he works in a few interceptions the final 11 games he could be in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Allowed just four catches against Green Bay, tallied a trio of passes defensed and looks the part of a shutdown corner. There isn't a cornerback in the league breaking up that last touchdown pass in single coverage. The route, the throw, the catch were perfectly executed. That's football.
  • The offensive line had without debate its top performance of the season to date, allowing just eight pressures and four QB hits in pass protection and grinding throughout in opening holes for Ezekiel Elliott. After a slow start, the Cowboys rushed for 163 yards at nearly five yards per carry. La'el Collins and Tyron Smith each produced their best game this season. The unit should only improve going forward.
  • There has been a lot of talk the last few days about the schedule. I get it. We all do. It's a first-place schedule. There are some tough matchups: Kansas City, Atlanta, Seattle, Philadelphia looks like the team to beat in the NFC East. There's also this, though: If the Cowboys start playing like they did last year, it doesn't matter who the opponent is. They beat everyone but the Giants in those first 15 games. If we're thinking 10-6 for a playoff berth, that's 8-3 going forward. That's more than doable.
  • Oh, one more point from Sunday. Yes, the Cowboys only punted once, Chris Jones with a beauty to the Green Bay 12-yard line with 7:46 remaining in the third quarter. At the time, Dallas was facing fourth-and-2 from midfield. On the Packers' following possession, they went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 48, converted and later scored a touchdown. With the investment in this line and Zeke, this has to be the kind of offense the Cowboys have confidence in to convert those two yards. Would like to see Dallas be more aggressive on fourth downs going forward. Especially against elite quarterbacks and offenses. Short field, long field, more times than not, they are going to put up points so why give them the ball back without at least trying to extend your own drive.
  • I'm not sure anyone has ever done more behind the scenes for the Dallas Cowboys franchise than Bruce Hardy. The longtime vice president and general manager of Texas Stadium, he did it all over a 30-year career and treated everyone equally, whether it was Axel Rose, Garth Brooks, the most recent hire or the guy stocking the vending machine. To Bruce, they were all the same, and each received his kindness, his humor and his respect. I was lucky enough to interview Hardy at length on three occasions, sitting in his office, just put the tape recorder on and listen. Hardy passed away last Thursday at 71. He touched so many lives, from his friends and family, to the Cowboys, to Texas high school football, to everyone who has ever taken in an event at Texas Stadium or AT&T Stadium. He was a gem of a man, he was a giant in the entertainment industry and he was a gentle soul. May he forever rest in peace.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net

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