FRISCO, Texas – This has to be a record for the fastest the torches have ever been lit by an NFL fanbase.
The adage says that you never want to overreact to Week 1, and that is true. It’s also fair to be alarmed by what we saw last week in Carolina. Eight points and 232 yards of offense, when this team is as healthy as it might be all year, isn’t a lot to get excited about.
As usual, I’m going to fall somewhere in the middle. It’s 100 percent acceptable to have concerns, but it’s probably a little early to be starting petitions for regime change in mid-September. A month from now we’ll have a much clearer idea of whether this team is any good. Until then, it seems prudent to take a deep breath – or five.
While you’re doing that, here’s some stuff I’m thinking about this week:
1. I know that Landon Collins is in the news for supposedly trash talking Dak Prescott, but that’s not what worries me heading into Week 2.
Throw on the tape of the Giants’ game against Jacksonville, and you’re not going to see much of Collins where you traditionally find a safety. New York’s Pro Bowler was making his living in the box, where he could wreak the most amount of havoc. He was blitzing off the edge, clogging the middle, sniffing out passes near the line of scrimmage and just generally making a nuisance of himself right where the Cowboys don’t want him – right in the thick of the run game.
We saw how much trouble the Cowboys had with extra defenders in the box last week. Now obviously, any team that’s facing Ezekiel Elliott is going to commit to the run. But it feels like another level to deploy a safety almost exclusively in the box, where he can theoretically be an extra hat on the ball carrier.
This is obvious, but Collins & Co. are going to make it another tough night on Elliott if Dak Prescott can’t make the Giants pay in the passing game.
2. Speaking of Dak, I’m not even sure what to type about the Cowboys’ quarterback heading into Week 2.
I have long expressed my confidence that Prescott can continue to play at a Pro Bowl level, and I still hold that confidence. But I’m not going to lie to you and say it wasn’t shaken by that game against the Panthers.
It’s not losing, or even losing ugly that will do that. But the missed reads, reluctance to throw and inaccuracy that we saw on Sunday was deeply concerning. Those are throws and plays that we’ve seen Dak make before – even against good defenses – and he couldn’t do it.
Again, one week is too soon to write the book on anything. I don’t think the Giants’ pass rush will be quite as fearsome as Carolina’s – although their secondary is markedly better. Dak is going to have his work cut out for him again.
In a weird way, though, watching the Panthers game back restores some of my faith. A lot of the missed plays from Week 1 were thinks we’ve seen Dak Prescott do 1,000 times. Perhaps he just didn’t trust his protection, perhaps it was a case of preseason rust. The Cowboys don’t need Dak to do the impossible to get the chains moving, they just need him to make plays he’s made before.
He can do that. Regardless of how ugly it looked in Week 1, these are fixes I think he can make in Week 2.
3. At the very least, you can always count on Dak to have the right response to the situation.
Prescott faced a hoard of reporters on Thursday afternoon, as might be expected after a disappointing performance. He fielded plenty of questions about his demeanor and his preparation after digesting his performance in Week 1.
Easily the best quote of the interview, though, was his response to this week’s comments from Landon Collins. The Giants’ Pro Bowl safety said on Wednesday that the Giants’ goal is to limit Ezekiel Elliott enough to put the game in Prescott’s hands.
"If we do that, put the ball into Dak's hands, I think we have a better shot at winning,” Collins said.
Prescott’s response was short and to the point: “Challenge accepted.”
Only time’s going to tell if he’s up to the challenge on the field. But you’ve got to love his approach off of it.
4. That Dez Bryant would be watching the On the Run II tour in an AT&T Stadium suite with Jerry Jones is about the least surprising thing in the world – and no it doesn’t mean the Cowboys are planning a Dez comeback.
First of all, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are amazing. I’ve seen both of their tours live, and it’s easily the best concert experience I’ve ever had. Hits on hits on hits, not to mention the choreography – and the short films! Holy cow, the short films. It’s like getting a concert and a movie-going experience in one.
Anyway, back to Dez. This isn’t surprising because we’ve heard Dez say about 10 times, and once as recently as last week, that he doesn’t hold any grudges with Jerry Jones.
This is Jerry Jones at his finest – the master of relationship-building and of people skills. The man has inducted several of his players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because of what he meant to them. And at the end of the day, Dez Bryant is one of this franchise’s best-ever.
Wherever his career is going from here, Jerry Jones wants Dez Bryant to be able to return to AT&T Stadium in an alumni blazer at some point – and maybe eventually see his name go up in the Ring of Honor. The guy doesn’t burn bridges easily, and Tuesday night serves as a reminder.
But also, Jay-Z and Beyoncé forever.
4. If he plays his cards right, DeMarcus Lawrence is going to be in line for a new contract by Sunday night.
I’m barely exaggerating.
If you’re looking for bright spots from Week 1, Lawrence was certainly one of them. The guy didn’t look like he lost a step off his Pro Bowl season, as he racked up seven tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery against a depleted Panthers offensive line.
Lawrence didn’t want to talk about it after the game, but I will: the dude looked like an utterly dominant, havoc-wreaking wrecking ball. And yes, the Panthers offensive line is not among the best in the NFL – but Lawrence will get several more opportunities against leaky units.
Case in point: enter Ereck Flowers and the Giants’ offensive line this week. Flowers has long been maligned as a misusage of a first-round pick, and he looked like that again in Week 1 against the ferocious Jacksonville pass rush.
As effective as Kawann Short was for Carolina against Dallas, I think Lawrence has the opportunity to do that to Flowers. This is a decided mismatch, and the Cowboys would benefit greatly if Lawrence takes advantage.
Last year, Lawrence got a jump on his Pro Bowl campaign by tallying an absurd 6.5 sacks in the first three weeks of the season. He just might add a couple to his tally on Sunday, and then his bid for a new contract will really start picking up steam.
5. Chalk it up to the quirks of the NFL scheduling formula, but it’s wild to me that the first meeting between the Cowboys and Giants is going to happen this Sunday, Sept. 16 – and then they won’t see each other again until the season finale.
I guess there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but it’s just strange. Typically, when the Cowboys have played the Giants early in the season, the second meeting has always been at the midpoint – either in October or November.
It’s been that way going back to 2012, when this impressive run of early games against the Giants really started. Dallas opened at New York that year, and the rematch was Oct. 28. In 2013, the two teams opened the season in Dallas and rematched the week before Thanksgiving. In 2015, after the dramatic last-second touchdown in the season opener, they played again on Oct. 25.
Even last year, the second meeting was a full month earlier at the start of December.
Like I said, I’m not sure this really means anything, it’s just a long time to wait to see a divisional opponent. This year’s games against Washington are just four weeks apart, and the two games against Philly are a mere three weeks apart.
It’s a damn near guarantee that both Dallas and New York are going to be completely different teams by Dec. 30, when they finally meet again. Hopefully for the Cowboys, it’ll be for the better.
6. We’ve talked plenty about the Cowboys’ issues with tackling against the Panthers. When Sean Lee has multiple missed tackles in a game, you know there’s an issue. The guy is basically a lock to make every play he has a chance at, so it just might not be your day if even he is struggling.
I was curious, though. The rigors of the NFL don’t really allow for teams to tackle in practice – at any point in the year, really. But certainly not during the six-day grind to get ready for games. There’s just too much at stake to risk players to injury working on your fundamentals during a game week.
So I asked Lee: what exactly do you work on to improve tackling, considering you can’t actually tackle in practice?
“You can work on tackling – everything up to taking someone to the ground, when it comes to footwork, putting your body on people, doing everything except actually dumping someone on the ground,” he said.
Lee said it’s not fun watching bad tape, but it can be useful.
“I doubled down on some of the fundamental things,” he said. “If I look back at the tape, it’s footwork, it’s angles, it’s fundamentals. Just kind of double down on that and get back out, get more experience and get ready.”
Just a hunch on my part, but I think Lee’s gonna be alright.
7. Much like the Cowboys, I’m not sure you can open a season worse than what I showed with my picks last week. Hopefully that’s a good thing, because it means I don’t know anything about what to expect from the league this year. You never want to overreact to Week 1, but it was fun to see so much parity around the league.
Alright, let’s try to do better this week:
BENGALS (-1) over Ravens
Panthers (+6) over FALCONS
Chargers (-7.5) over BILLS
PACKERS (-1) over Vikings
Texans (-1.5) over TITANS
SAINTS (-8.5) over Browns
Dolphins (+3.5) over JETS
STEELERS (-4) over Chiefs
Eagles (-3.5) over BUCCANEERS
REDSKINS (-6) over Colts
RAMS (-13) over Cardinals
Lions (+6) over 49ERS
BRONCOS (-6) over Raiders
Patriots (-1) over JAGUARS
Seahawks (+3.5) over BEARS