Quar­ter­back Prescott ac­cepts Gi­ant chal­lenge

If Dal­las wants to avoid start­ing 0-2, pass­ing at­tack needs to im­prove.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon

FRISCO — Dak Prescott heard the as­sess­ment from New York Giants safety Lan­don Collins on how to beat his Dal­las Cow­boys.

Stop run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott, put the ball in Prescott’s hands, and “I think we’ll have a bet­ter shot at win­ning,” Collins said a few days af­ter the Carolina Pan­thers il­lus­trated as much in the opener.

“Chal­lenge ac­cepted,” the Dal­las quar­ter­back said. “Chal­lenge

ac­cepted.”

The Cow­boys know ev­ery op­po­nent wants to stop the run­ning game. El­liott says it’s been that way since the first game of his rookie year, when fel­low firstyear star Prescott re­placed an in­jured Tony Romo and be­came the starter for good while El­liott won the 2016 rush­ing ti­tle.

If the play­ers in Prescott’s pass­ing game are feel­ing the bur­den of cre­at­ing space for El­liott while also try­ing to fig­ure out life af­ter

the re­tire­ment of tight end Ja­son Wit­ten and the re­lease of wide re­ceiver Dez Bryant, they’re not show­ing it go­ing into their home opener Sun­day night against the Giants.

Dal­las is try­ing to avoid its first 0-2 start in seven sea­sons un­der coach Ja­son Gar­rett.

“No bur­den at all,” said Allen Hurns, one of the free agents brought in to try to fill the void left by Bryant. “I think we did a pretty good job. Things didn’t go our way as far as get­ting catches. But I feel like we did our job as far as cre­at­ing sep­a­ra­tion.”

Case in point: tight end Blake Jar­win. The sec­ond-year pro was wide open as Prescott scram­bled dur­ing the 16-8 loss to the Pan­thers. Prescott un­der­threw him badly, but part of the prob­lem was Jar­win go­ing deep when Prescott thought he would come back.

“When you scram­ble, there are a lot of things that go into the scram­ble rules,” Prescott said. “What you should do, what you shouldn’t do, what you look for. That’s a good ex­am­ple of not know­ing what each other wanted.”

Dal­las has new re­ceivers ga­lore, af­ter roughly five years with the same core. Be­sides Hurns and Jar­win, there are re­ceivers Deonte Thompson (free agent) and Tavon Austin (trade). Then again, it starts to sound like an ex­cuse to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Scott Line­han.

“The so­lu­tion is we’ve just got to keep meet­ing, and you’ve got to keep go­ing,” Line­han said. “Some­times we think we’re on the same page. But a guy, he may never, ever have done that be­cause he wasn’t here.”

Clearly, the Cow­boys have some­thing to get fixed. Prescott has thrown for less than 200 yards in seven of his past nine starts, al­though six of those were dur­ing El­liott’s sus­pen­sion.

Since a club-record 11-game win­ning streak that ul­ti­mately sent Romo into re­tire­ment two years ago, Prescott and the Cow­boys have been av­er­age. The pass­ing game has strug­gled, and that is part of the rea­son Dal­las cut an un­der­per­form­ing Bryant rather than pay him $12.5 mil­lion.

With­out bet­ter re­sults throw­ing, the Cow­boys risk a first half with El­liott like they had against the Pan­thers: 18 yards rush­ing.

“We be­lieve in the guys we have,” said El­liott, who fin­ished with 69 yards and scored the team’s only touch­down in the sec­ond half. “We be­lieve in our of­fen­sive line. They’ve been the best play­ers on our team. We got to rally around those guys and just keep work­ing.”

The of­fen­sive line is try­ing to re­place four-time Pro Bowl cen­ter Travis Fred­er­ick, out in­def­i­nitely with a nerve dis­or­der. Joe Looney is set for his sec­ond start and has a rookie next to him, left guard Con­nor Wil­liams, a sec­ond-round pick out of Texas.

“I thought we did some good things, and I thought we did some bad things,” Looney said. “It wasn’t like we went out there and got beat 50-0. It’s one game. I take that ap­proach. We’re not press­ing the panic but­ton. It’s a long sea­son.”

The idea of a long sea­son will take on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing if the Cow­boys can’t find go-to threats or Prescott has trou­ble con­nect­ing with them.

“I keep say­ing it’s a sim­ple thing for me,” said for­mer Longhorn Ge­off Swaim, still the only tight end on the ros­ter with a catch in the reg­u­lar sea­son. “I think about it like, ‘If I do my job well, then the im­pact we’ll have is a good one, and it will help Zeke, and it will help (Beasley), and it will help Dak. Ev­ery­thing will get bet­ter.’ ”

GRANT HALVERSON / GETTY IMAGES

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott knows teams will try to stop Dal­las’ run­ning game and force him to prove he can beat them with his arm and new re­ceivers.

GRANT HALVERSON / GETTY IMAGES

Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott had a tough time find­ing room to run against safety Da’Nor­ris Searcy and the Pan­thers last week.

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