One week into the season, which of these Cowboys numbers frightens you the most?
A) Eight points in the opener. Only Buffalo and Arizona scored fewer.
B) No touchdowns in the first three quarters for three straight games going back to last season.
C) Seven games out of nine in which Dak Prescott has not managed 200 passing yards.
D) Five games out of nine in which the Cowboys have failed to score 10 points.
If you picked E) All of the above, I think that's fair. But there is one that has to be troubling Cowboys coaches as much as fans as they prepare for the New York Giants and hope to avoid an 0-2 start.
You all know how Prescott made his name here. The Cowboys' 11-game winning streak after dropping the season opener was a club record. He was the first Cowboys rookie quarterback ever picked to a Pro Bowl or named Rookie of the Year. He broke Troy Aikman's and Tony Romo's club records for accuracy with nine games of 70 percent completions or better. The list goes on, but the big number - the game-changer - is that 11-game streak.
It's what turned Tony Romo into a broadcaster. It's what convinced us all that a corner had been turned and this team's long playoff malaise was about to become a thing of the past.
But when the 11-game streak ended in New York, something else happened. The Cowboys - for reasons that can only be examined here but not fully explained - reverted to being an average football team.
The Cowboys have played 22 games since the end of their club-record streak. And 11-0 has been followed by 11-11.
That's about as average as it gets over a stretch of nearly a season-and-a-half of football. If you want to claim that the Cowboys mailed in their season finale in 2016, resting almost everyone in Philadelphia for a meaningless loss, just remember the shoe was on the other foot when the Eagles sat their defense and most of their offense in a 6-0 victory that only head coach Jason Garrett saw as meaningful.
Possibly because it kept him from his fourth 8-8 season.
So who are these 11-11 Cowboys and is this what we should expect for the rest of 2018?
The change has come almost entirely on offense. During the streak, the Cowboys defense allowed 19 points per game. In the 22 games played since, they are allowing an average of 19.4.
Ezekiel Elliott's production has slipped although I would stop short of saying it has fallen off the charts. He was a 5.1 yards per carry back during the streak. He's sitting slightly under 4.4 in the 11-11 stretch. It should be mentioned he has played in just 15 of those 22 games due to suspension and sitting out the 2016 finale.
And many folks seem to close the books on this matter when that gets mentioned, suggesting Elliott's suspension cost the team the 2017 season and predicting all will be fine with him back on the field. But you can only make that case, a shaky one at best, on the presumption that it was the pending suspension hanging over the team that was so costly. In reality, the team was 3-4 without Elliott during this 11-11 run and is 8-7 with him.
If you see that as a game-changing difference, be my guest.
The major change has come in the passing game, and it shows up in Prescott's numbers although clearly it's a function of the receivers and the protection as well.
Prescott completed 70 percent of his passes seven times in the 11-0 run (63.6 percent). He has done it four times in the 11-11 stretch (18.2 percent). Prescott threw two interceptions in the winning streak. He has thrown eight times as many (16) in the stretch that is twice as long, so essentially those numbers have quadrupled.
Prescott was sacked just 16 times during the winning streak. He has been sacked 47 times (28 in the last nine games) during this period in which Dallas has been so average.
How do the Cowboys fix all of this?
It's as simple as:
Protect Prescott better. Get receivers who make catches. Get Prescott to deliver the ball more accurately. Increase Elliott's production by more than half a yard per carry.
Just figure those four things out before the Giants arrive Sunday night, and the Cowboys are back on course. If you somehow lack the faith in this coaching staff and these players to get that done, then get ready for an average looking season.
It's what the Cowboys are.
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