FRISCO, Texas – It's not often you're presented with such wildly different ideas of what a team might be.
That's the main conclusion I keep coming to after watching two Cowboys games this season. It's normal to see teams win and lose games, given the parity in the NFL. The Cowboys are 1-1, which means they're exactly like 12 other teams in the NFL right now.
What's wild is the way we got here. This team has a lopsided, dominant victory under its belt, against a team that made the 2016 playoffs, for that matter. It also got utterly thrashed by a team that didn't make the postseason last year -- though I think we can all agree Denver has been one of this league's better teams for quite a while now.
It reminds me a little bit of the beginning of the 2014 season, when the Cowboys were utterly demolished by a San Francisco team that made the NFC Championship Game the year before. They bounced back the next with week a dominant, 26-10 win on the road, but it's not a perfect comparison because it did come against a Tennessee Titans team lacking in the talent department.
In the 16-game grind of the NFL schedule, it's normal not to know a team's identity in September. I don't think we're going to have a good grasp of what the Cowboys are for at least another month or so. But it is definitely off-putting to see such completely opposite performances at the outset of the season.
As is usually the case, the reality of the situation will likely fall somewhere in between.
1.My favorite thing about writing a column on Thursday is that it actually gives me time to look around and inform myself. I hate firing off hot takes I'm not 100 percent sure about, and I refuse to do it. Because of that, I'll often set out to write one thing and wind up doing the exact opposite, thanks to the benefit of added information.
Case in point: it's confusing and alarming that Dez Bryant has 25 targets through two games, yet has just seven catches for 102 yards to show for it. It reads on the stat sheet like Dak Prescott is forcing plays to his star wide out, which is something he's said he wouldn't do.
Here's a quote from this time last year: "I know some people kind of threaten and you've got to try to get some of your playmakers the ball, but then you get away from your offense," Prescott said. "You get away from things that you normally do when you do that. So I think it's important for us to just make sure that we keep running our offense."
So, with all of this swirling in my head, I sat down and watched Bryant's 25 targets from the first two weeks. Call me an apologist if you want to, but it's honestly not as bad as it looks on paper.
Against the Giants, Dez was targeted nine times. One of those was a seven route to the sideline that had no chance to be completed, and another was batted down at the line by Damon Harrison.
So now we're talking about seven targets. Of those seven targets, it breaks down as such:
-- A fade from the 3-yard line that came inches from being completed for a touchdown.
--A slant across the end zone that was likely a touchdown, if not thrown too high by Prescott.
--A crossing route through the end zone, again thrown high by a hurried Prescott.
--A slant for an eight-yard gain
--A "go" route from the slot, tightly contested by Janoris Jenkins and ultimately incomplete inside the 10-yard line.
--A post, in which he broke Jenkins' tackle and gained 35 yards.
--Another "go" route, again tightly contested by Jenkins, broken up in the end zone.
On top of that, Bryant drew a 21-yard defensive pass interference call that helped Dallas to a field goal. It's not exactly the stat line you want from your All-Pro receiver, but it certainly isn't horrific, either.
2.Bryant's outing against Denver turned into two completely different scenarios, which you might expect given the score.
Having charted all 16 of his targets from last Sunday, I found something somewhat surprising. In the first half and the early going of the second half, when the score was still manageable, Bryant was targeted just six times. He caught four of those targets for 34 yards and a touchdown. Of the two that he didn't catch, the first was a ball that sailed over his head, out of bounds, while the second was thrown short and behind him.
The afternoon turned on what was obviously Bryant's worst play of the season – a ball he should have caught but didn't, which then turned into a Denver interception and an ensuing touchdown. That sequence made the game 28-10, at which point all bets were off.
With the Broncos holding an 18-point lead and boasting a ferocious pass rush. The rest of the day was miserable for both Dak and Dez. The duo tried to connect on nine more occasions on the day, as the Cowboys tried to throw their way back into the game, and they completed just two of those for 11 yards.
I guess my point is that stats can lie. Obviously, Dez's performance through two weeks isn't great. That goes for the rest of the offense, as a matter of fact. But I don't think it's as awful as we might have initially thought.
3.Having said that, I don't think it's going to get any easier on Monday night, because Dez is almost assuredly going to have to battle Patrick Peterson for the duration of this Week 3 game against Arizona.
For my money, Peterson is the best cornerback in football, given his versatility across several playing styles, his athleticism, his physicality and his ability to shadow an opponent's best receiver all over the field.
What concerns me more than the number of targets Dez is getting, is the fact that he and Prescott just don't seem to be on the same page as of yet. The missed touchdown in Week 1 is an obvious note. But in Denver, there were three big occasions where they seemed to misfire. The first two were near-interceptions by Aqib Talib, if not for Bryant playing some solid defense. The third turned out to be the pick-six at the tail end of the game.
Give credit to Talib. He's an excellent cornerback in his own right. But improved communication and accuracy could fix some of those problems. That's something to be mindful of if you're going against an All-Pro corner.
4.On Nov. 21, 2015, Michigan State beat Ohio State at the buzzer of a Big Ten game with national title implications. It was the first loss in 24 games for a loaded Buckeye team, and its first loss since claiming the national championship the year before.
Following the game, a despondent Ezekiel Elliott lamented the way Ohio State's coaches called the game.
"What happened today, it was kind of like a bad, bad dream. Offense had a rough day, and I'm disappointed," Elliott said at the time. "I'm disappointed in the play calling, I'm disappointed in the situations we were put in, and I wish it all played out differently."
Those comments became national headlines and became a topic of debate for days, if not weeks.
And all of that stemmed from a game in which Elliott, Ohio State's workhorse running back, carried the ball 12 times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
So now, put all of that in context. Up to this point in his decorated career, Ezekiel Elliott's worst-ever game as a starter saw him carry the ball for 33 yards in a touchdown. Now consider that on Sunday, Elliott carried the ball nine times for eight yards and caught four passes for 14 yards.
The guy who carried Ohio State to a national title and rushed for 1,615 yards in his first NFL season accounted for 47 all-purpose yards in what is probably the most lopsided loss of his career.
At the end of the day, it's still an excuse. But I can appreciate that Elliott was incredibly frustrated on Sunday, and thus didn't exactly want to sprint after an interception that happened right in front of him.
No, it's not a good look, and yes it's something the coaches will talk to him about. But I'm not going to kill the guy for succumbing to human nature.
5.I've pounded on this drum a few times since the draft, and I'm just going to touch on it right now. It feels fitting in the wake of such a poor performance in Denver.
I know he's only a rookie, and I know he missed the majority of the preseason. But I sure would like to see if Ryan Switzer is capable of bringing a new element to this offense.
I don't want to suggest that Lucky Whitehead was an elite playmaker, but it's fair to say that the misdirection he brought to this offense with his fly sweeps was worthwhile. Even when he wasn't getting the ball, he was giving defenders a reason to hesitate.
As quick as he is, I've got to believe Switzer is capable of doing something like that. I also think he can help you combat a talented secondary like Denver's, since putting him on the field with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley would create a favorable matchup at least somewhere.
Of course, it's not as simple as I make it sound. In that scenario, you have to take someone off the field – either reigning rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, or future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. This Cowboys offense has a lot of weapons, and not a lot of touches to go around.
Still, it's something I'd be interested to see at some point.
6.I have to admit that I'm a bit of a hypocrite here. Just like the rest of the world, I play fantasy football. I'm in a league with my buddies from home, and I'm devastated about how mediocre my team is.
That said, I can't be the only one that gets so tired of having fantasy football injected into every NFL conversation I have these days. I'm so unbelievably exhausted by everyone fretting over whether someone will play, and I'm grossed out by people who root for players over teams.
So I was super stoked when Detroit wide receiver Golden Tate called out a fan for whining about fantasy stats in the wake of a big win.
Like I said, I play fantasy. I know there's a lot of pride, and often a lot of money at stake. But, I dunno. Can we just enjoy actual football a little bit more and care about fantasy a little less?
7.It sounds like Orlando Scandrick is going to be available to play Monday against the Cardinals. By the time kickoff rolls around, it will have been two weeks since he had surgery on his hand, and he has said he's going to practice this week.
Cowboys officials expressed optimism earlier in the week that Chidobe Awuzie would be able to practice after hurting his hamstring last Sunday, but he was not active in Thursday's practice.
It's hard to predict to a certainty, but it looks to me like the Cowboys are only going to have four fully healthy cornerbacks on Monday night – Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis and Bene' Benwikere.
Benwikere is the lone guy in that group who hasn't gotten into the fray yet. The Cowboys traded for him during final roster cuts, so he has been here for roughly three weeks – but he has yet to participate in a game. There's some roster finagling that goes into that. The front office traded a conditional draft pick for him, and they only have to part with the pick if he's active for a certain number of occasions.
I get that you'd prefer to hold on to your draft pick, but the health of this secondary hardly inspires confidence right now. I think it's probably time Mr. Benwikere gets his shot.
8.Many, many years ago, I remember watching a segment on the Food Network about something called a Sonoran hot dog. It's basically a bacon-wrapped hot dog, covered in all kinds of condiments – pico de gallo, avocado, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, you name it – and stuffed into a bun that's much larger than your average hot dog bun.
It looked like the most amazing thing I had ever laid eyes on, and I was absolutely devastated when I found out that it's an item you can typically only find in the Southwest. Even here in Texas, I haven't had a whole lot of luck finding places that specialize in this delicacy.
So, that's priority No. 1 when I get to Phoenix on Sunday. Monday Night Football against the Cardinals sounds fun, don't get me wrong. But I'm going to find a Sonoran hot dog, one way or the other.