Cowboys face intense pressure to avoid 0-2
That was Dak Prescott’s response to the contention from Giants safety Landon Collins that a key to beating the Cowboys will be shutting down Ezekiel Elliott and putting the game in the hands of the struggling quarterback.
Makes sense. Elliott is the best weapon, but Prescott is the face of a sputtering offense that produced just eight points in an uninspiring loss at Carolina, fewest for the Cowboys in a season opener since 2010.
But there’s a much bigger-picture challenge facing Dallas as it tries to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.
It might be a bit early in the season for a must-win game, but that’s precisely the case as Dallas takes the AT&T Stadium stage in prime time on Sunday.
You know the deal. A 0-2 start is like a death sentence on the season in the NFL. In the 10 previous seasons, teams are 9 of 120 for making the playoffs after starting 0-2, according to the Toronto Sun.
The last time the Cowboys started
That’s another marker from 2010, as 0-2 turned into 1-7 … which cost Wade Phillips his job.
Jason Garrett, who replaced Phillips as Cowboys coach, wound up with a path to a promotion after the last 0-2 start in Dallas. Yet in making the playoffs just twice in seven years, another 0-2 start for the Cowboys could set the tone for conditions that might wear out owner Jerry Jones’ patience with Garrett.
Granted, Jones has been very supportive of Garrett, especially publicly. Jones was close to Garrett’s father, Jim, a former Cowboys scout, and groomed his coach for this role.
When training camp opened in July, Jones was adamant in declaring that this wasn’t a “make-or-break” season for Garrett.
Away from the podium after that declaration, though, Jones told USA TODAY when I asked about his patience in the coach, “Just because I show that kind of stick with Jason does not mean as we are strategizing, that it looks like he is in the family portrait forever. That’s not the way it works.”
While Dallas is still the NFL’s best TV draw (averaging an NFL-high 23.3 million viewers for the opener at Carolina), the Scott Linehan-coordinated offense looks like a mess. Or bad TV. Sure, Jason Witten surprisingly retired and the Cowboys released Dez Bryant. The Oline is without anchor center Travis Frederick, out indefinitely while treating an autoimmune disease.
Yet other issues are so glaring. There’s no proven, go-to receiver on the squad to stretch the field. And after so much talk during the offseason about building a “Dak-friendly” offense, that could be interpreted by opposing defenses as a “friendly Dak” offense when facing too many third-and-longs.
Prescott has passed for 200 yards just twice in nine games, dating to the middle of last season. Getting Elliott in the mix for a full season should help, but if the receivers don’t separate and if Prescott misses with the type of ugly throws demonstrated at Carolina …
Add to that the observation from Troy Aikman during the Fox broadcast: “I’m not seeing any creativity.”
In Dallas, those words from a Cowboys legend cut deep. And should concern the Dallas brain trust.
Yes, the challenge is on in more ways than one.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott looks to pass as Panthers defensive end Wes Horton moves in to apply pressure in the season opener.