Writer's Blocks: One Big Stat For Cowboys' Playoff Hopes, Zeke's Workload; More

FRISCO, Texas – Every single NFL Sunday without fail, a score jumps off the screen and surprises you – like the Los Angeles Rams going on the road and outlasting Arizona.

Maybe that's what I get for writing Jeff Fisher off in a division game, but I assumed that'd be a businesslike win for the Cardinals. "What on Earth happened?" is what I wondered to myself as I got home from San Francisco late Sunday night and turned on the highlights.

What I saw immediately answered the question for me. The Cardinals can't hang on to the ball to save their lives at this point in the season. They outgained L.A. by 132 yards, but they committed five turnovers and finished with a turnover margin of minus-four.

When they lost to Buffalo in Week 3, the Cardinals did the same thing and lost by a score of 33-18.

That's 10 turnovers in two weeks, which does plenty to explain their surprisingly bad start to the season.

Of course, like all things do, that got me thinking about the Cowboys – and that's where I'll be starting out this week.

1.It's not just Arizona, it's the nature of football. I went through and looked at the scoreboard on Sunday night, and 10 of the 30 teams that played on Sunday committed at least two turnovers. Of the 32 teams in the league, 23 of them are averaging more than a turnover per game.

Contrast that with the Cowboys, who have a measly two turnovers – in four weeks. That ties them for third-best in the league, if you're wondering. The only teams with fewer turnovers are Minnesota, which is tied for the best record in football, and Philadelphia, which has only played three games.

For reference on how absurd that is, remembers that the Cowboys committed three turnovers in their Week 1 win against the Giants last season. The 2014 team that famously made the playoffs had seven turnovers after four games.

It becomes even more absurd when you remember that a rookie quarterback is the one responsible for all this ball security. Dak Prescott has yet to turn the ball over once in four starts, and it's a big part of this team's fast start.

2.I did some research about this giveaway stat, and I came back with some encouraging results. Now, we're all aware how important takeaways are in football, and the Cowboys are middle-of-the-pack in that department with five in four games.

If they can't generate more takeaways, though, a great solution to the problem is not to turn the ball over.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cowboys are currently tied for third in the league in fewest turnovers.

So what I did was: I went all the way back to 2009, and I looked at every team that finished in the NFL's top five in fewest turnovers. When you include statistical ties, that's 52 total teams who were great at protecting the ball over the past seven years.

Of those 52 teams, 44 of them made it to the postseason. That's 85 percent, and that can only be good news for the Cowboys if they keep holding on to the rock.

3.Having said all of that, allow me to throw some cold water on the Cowboys' hot start.

I know this is the NFL. Every team is tough to beat, and you can only play the games that are scheduled for you. I respect that fact, and a 3-1 record is a 3-1 record at the end of the day.

Having said all of that, I perused the power rankings earlier this week and noticed that the national writers of the NFL don't think too highly of the Cowboys' opposition. I looked at four big power rankings – CBS Sports, NFL.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo.com – and averaged the ranking of each Cowboys' opponent to this point.

The Redskins factor in with an average ranking of 19. The Bears average out at 29, while the 49ers are 30. The Giants, who downed the Cowboys in Week 1, rank collectively at 16.

Point being: it's been a good start, but I'd still like to see more. These next two games before the bye week should tell us a lot.

4.Oh, the joys of youth.

One month into the season, Ezekiel Elliott is the leading rusher in the NFL. He's also the leading ball carrier with 94 attempts on the season. That's one more than Lamar Miller, with 93, and six more than LeGarrette Blount, with 88.

Elliott is actually only five touches behind DeMarco Murray's torrid pace from 2014, when he had 99 carries for 534 yards after one month of play.

The only difference is: no one is asking Zeke about is workload – at all. No one's even talking about it.

At his current rate, he is on pace for 376 carries, which is 50 more than last year's leader – Adrian Peterson, with 327. It's only 16 fewer carries than the 392 carries Murray famously piled up in 2014, when he was famously asked about his health and durability after every game.

The difference is obvious. Murray was 26, with three years of NFL mileage on his legs.

Elliott just turned 21, and he's as fresh as he's ever going to be. This is why the Cowboys spent a premium draft pick on a young running back. Feed him the ball.

5. Sunday's game against Cincinnati is going to start at 3:25 p.m. local time, which means we're all due for the most awful storyline in the world of Cowboys storylines – the sunlight on the field.

Odds are that as the game winds down, the setting sun will stream through those beautiful windows at AT&T Stadium. Maybe it will even get in somebody's eye – either for the Cowboys or Bengals. Jason Witten and some other Cowboys players had to fight the sun back in Week 1, and it was a talking point for a full week afterward.

I'm sorry, but I just don't care even a little bit. Like Jason Garrett said back in September, it's a problem teams have had to face forever. I've covered games at AT&T Stadium where it affected the opposition, and I've covered games where it affected the home team. On none of those occasions was it the deciding factor in the outcome. It's a thing that occasionally happens. Get over it.

Hopefully it's rainy or overcast on Sunday and this won't be something I have to hear about next week.

6.Cowboys fans don't want to hear me say this, but I feel legitimately bad for Odell Beckham Jr. It sounds exhausting to have millions of people dissecting your every move and using a small handful of actions to determine the content of your character.

Cowboys fans *should *have sympathy for Beckham, considering they've been rooting for Dez Bryant these past seven years. Is there a more scrutinized, hotly-debated player in the league than Dez? Do we ever need to have another debate about his intensity and whether he's good for the team's psyche?

Of course we don't, but we will. That's what happens when you wear your heart on your sleeve.

Bryant himself understood that, which is why he tweeted these two things on Wednesday morning, amidst this latest news cycle about whether Beckham is too emotional:

Regardless of the fact that they play for divisional rivals, Beckham and Bryant will always be able to relate about the intense scrutiny they live under. It makes total sense why they're friends.

7.People love to roll their eyes at the lengths media members will go to in order to get a story. In fact, I just wrote a 200-word blurb about how stupid I think it is that Odell Beckham Jr. is all over the news right now.

But just this once, I'm going to take the blame off "The Media" and give a big ol' eye roll to the fans, who generated one of the more amusing stories of the season this week.

If you missed it, Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith tweeted an inspirational message on Monday morning:

It's a simple enough message, and it's something football players – hell, even regular people – tweet all the time.

Things change when the tweeter in question is a No. 34 overall pick who is on the mend from a severe knee injury, though. Smith is a freakish, top 10 talent when he's healthy, and he could give this Dallas defense a massive boost.

So, naturally, fans jumped to the best possible conclusion – which is that Smith's oft-discussed peroneal nerve is firing, and he'll be ready to play soon. Asked about it Tuesday afternoon, Smith said he was just giving thanks. No special reason.

That was always going to be the most likely answer. Smith has made massive strides in his recovery from ACL and LCL tears, and you can tell he's working like a maniac to get himself ready to play. But he still wears a supportive brace on his injured foot, and he still wouldn't be able to walk or run properly without it.

Smith said he'd never rule himself out, but it's doubtful that changes in 2016.

I understand fans' excitement, but if something happened that meant the Cowboys might be able to get one of their most talented players onto the field, it'd be front page news – not buried on a player's Twitter feed.

8. Myles Jack Watch:Mentioning Jaylon Smith seems like a solid segue to bring in Myles Jack.

As I've mentioned a dozen times, the fact that the Cowboys could have drafted a healthy Jack – who was still available – when they opted to pick the injured Smith, will undoubtedly link the two players for the rest of their careers.

Jack got his first career start last Sunday when the Jaguars played Indianapolis in London. Injuries forced him into the strong side linebacker role, which isn't where he's likely to play full-time – but he did alright. He finished with six total tackles and a pass breakup.

That's not much, but it's an obvious improvement from special teams duty, which is where he was to start the season.

9.I don't have any ill will toward Trevor Siemian, but I'm kinda hoping he doesn't play for Denver this weekend against Atlanta.

Siemian sprained his shoulder when he was thrown to the ground in the Broncos' 27-7 win against Tampa Bay last weekend. He left the game late in the second quarter and ceded the field to first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch.

And that, right there, is why I'd be curious to see Siemian take a week or more off: Lynch.

We know the Cowboys made a bid to trade up for Lynch back in April, but Seattle's price was too high. The Broncos swooped in and drafted their quarterback of the future at No. 26 overall. Jerry Jones told reporters that next day that he'd been unable to sleep, thinking about the missed opportunity.

Five months later, that feels like a hilarious dream. The Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott much later, and he has set the world on fire. Jones sleeps just fine these days, and he's undoubtedly thanking his lucky stars that he didn't try harder to make that deal.[embeddedad0]

I'm still curious about how good Lynch might be, though. He played just more than two quarters against Tampa, and he looked good – 14-of-24 for 170 yards and a touchdown, with no picks and a passer rating of 94.1.

The Cowboys obviously love Dak, and they should. But it'll always be interesting to see what might have been. Watching Lynch should be interesting for quite some time – whether it's this weekend or years into the future.

10.So far through 25 percent of the season, I'm really good at predicting what's going to happen to the Cowboys, with an unblemished 4-0 record.

When it comes to the rest of the league, it ain't so rosy. I went a so-so 9-6 last week, highlighted by several awful picks like Tampa over Denver and Detroit over Chicago. I'm 36-27 on the season.

Onward and (hopefully) upward. Home teams in caps:

Arizona over SAN FRANCISCO
New England over CLEVELAND
DETROIT over Philadelphia
MIAMI over Tennessee
Washington over BALTIMORE
MINNESOTA over Houston
PITTSBURGH over New York Jets
Atlanta over DENVER
Buffalo over LOS ANGELES
San Diego over OAKLAND
GREEN BAY over New York Giants
CAROLINA over Tampa Bay

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