Rookies bolster Cowboys offense
Avoiding errors, Prescott and Elliott have led Dallas to an NFL-best 8-1 start
Brandon Williams’ loyalty to the Ravens is undisputed. But even he can appreciate from afar how well rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have played for the Dallas Cowboys thus far.
“They’ve just got something magical right now,” the burly nose tackle said. “They’ve got a good thing going right now, and they’re riding the wave as good as they can. They’re going out there every week and playing good football, and doing what they’ve got to do to come out with a ‘W.’ Kudos to them for being young, but also putting it on their backs to be good out there.”
Williams and his defensive teammates will be charged with trying to make Prescott and Elliott seem ordinary when the AFC Northleading Ravens (5-4) tangle with the NFC East-leading Cowboys (8-1) on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It’s a task that only one opponent has managed to accomplish. Since a seasonopening 20-19 loss to the New York Giants, Dallas has run off eight straight victories and won those games by an average of 11.1 points.
The Cowboys rank in the top five in the NFL in scoring (third, 28.7 points per game), total yards (third, 412.7 yards) and rushing (first at 161.0 yards). A good portion of their offensive success has stemmed from the play of Prescott and Elliott.
Prescott, 23, has already set franchise rookie quarterback records for completions (187), yards (2,339) and touchdowns (14), and his total of seven games with a passer rating of 100.0 or better is the fourth-highest mark in league history for a first-year player. Sunday, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Dallas by 7
Elliott, 21, leads the league in rushing yards (1,005) and runs of 10 yards or more (29), is tied for second in touchdowns (nine), and ranks fourth in yards per carry (5.1).
Their success has sparked national conversation about whether they could split two major NFL awards at the end of the season with Prescott being named Offensive Rookie of the Year and Elliott earning Most Valuable Player honors.
Prescott, who has refused to be distracted by the outside chatter, said one of the benefits of navigating the league waters with Elliott is that they have leaned on each other in their inaugural seasons.
“Me and Zeke are great friends, on the field and off the field,” Prescott said Wednesday in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “We work great together. We just like to stay within the moment. [We are] thankful for the opportunity to play this game that we love. Wehave been playing for a long time, and [we are thankful] to play for this organization.”
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the rookies’ development has been their ability to avoid errors. Prescott has thrown just two interceptions, which is tied for second fewest in the league, and has been sacked just 13 times, which is tied for the sixthlowest total. Elliott has lost just one fumble despite ranking second in carries (198).
“They don’t really make mistakes at all, especially at the quarterback position,” Ravens inside linebacker Zachary Orr said. “He’s real poised in there. It is kind of surprising because you see a lot of rookies make rookie mistakes, and we haven’t really seen that at all from them. Obviously, they are two of the leaders on their team and their offense. They’ve been doing a great job leading the team to an 8-1 record.”
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees half-joked that Prescott should no longer be considered a rookie, calling him “a first-year player.”
“This guy has seen a bunch of stuff now,” Pees said Thursday. “They played three divisional teams that you know throw everything at them that they can throw at them, and nobody has rattled him. I don’t think of him — don’t even look at him — as a rookie. I look at him just as another quarterback that’s an excellent, excellent talent.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said team officials knew what they were getting when they used the fourth overall pick to take Elliott from Ohio State and a fourth-round choice on Prescott from Mississippi State.
“They are good players whounderstand the game, who work very hard at the game and want to get better,” Garrett said. “If you look at them over the course of the season, they have done a good job right from the start, but they have gotten better and better and better, certainly week by week and even day by day. It’s fun to coach them because of the approach that they have.”
The Ravens were not in the market for either player with the sixth overall selection or any of their other10 picks. But coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the pickle the organization would’ve been in if it had to choose between Elliott and left tackle Ronnie Stanley, whom the team took at No. 6.
“It would have been a very tough call,” Harbaugh said. “I think I know which way we would have gone. I was in the room. I did see the [draft] board. … He’s a guy we thought a lot of. He’s a guy that would have gotten very serious consideration if he had been there.”
If the Ravens harbor any hope of extending their modest winning streak to three and ending the Cowboys’ run, they must contain Prescott and Elliott, who exposed the Ravens’ archrival Pittsburgh Steelers in a 35-30 win Sunday. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs appreciated watching Prescott and Elliott give the Ravens a one-game lead over the Steelers.
“You definitely love watching them,” he said. “It also looks like they are out there having a lot of fun. Like I said, it is good for our league, it is good for football. We just do not want them to have too much fun come Sunday.”
After just nine games, Dak Prescott has set franchise rookie quarterback records for completions (187), yards (2,339) and touchdowns (14).