A Big “What if?”
The Dallas Cowboys cannot be blamed for wondering “what if?’’ But no, not “what if we would’ve beaten the Packers and then beaten the Falcons and then advanced to the Super Bowl against the Patriots?’’
This “what if’’ is a simple philosophical regret from Green Bay 34, Dallas 31 in their playoff game a week ago: Dallas fell behind 21-3 in its final game … and stayed behind, for the most part, because it didn’t ride Ezekiel Elliott. That early deficit is being given by some as the reason they didn’t “stick with the run” more, in the form of more than 22 carries for Elliott.
But the point is being missed. The score was 0-0 when Dallas first decided to not “stick with it,” as on third-and-2 within field-goal range when they let Dak Prescott throw downfield into coverage for an incompletion/near-interception.
The idea that the Cowboys “had to catch up on the scoreboard” equals a loss of identity — and that’s the real “what if?’’ This was the first time all season that Dallas took that approach. Remember in the first month of the season in San Francisco? Dallas was down 14-0 and yet didn’t budge from what it knew would work: Zeke and ball control. Besides, who says a Zeke run — against a wobbly Packers run D — can’t net you chunk plays?
The Cowboys faced a first down on the Packers’ 15-yard line with 1:19 left in the first half and threw, threw and threw. All incomplete (though they justifiably argue that tight end Jason Witten was tackled during his route on what might’ve been a TD.) Dak checked out of a run on second-and-1 at the Packers’ 19-yard line in the third … passed … and was intercepted, in part because the rest of the team was still planning (and blocking) like it was a run.
Even on that final drive, the Green Bay run D was on its heels, tired, and quite likely unable to stop whatever Dallas did. And what Dallas did was throw … Oh, and spike. (Another regrettable “what if’’ for another day.)
Now listen: Dak is a stud. I think I’m with Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, who said “I think [Dak’s] got a chance to be one of the great ones.” But Ezekiel Elliott is a stud with a role that comes with almost none of the risks of putting the ball in the air. Zeke has been selected as the NFL Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America (which also selected Prescott as the quarterback on its All-Rookie Team). Elliott, the fourth overall pick in last April’s draft, ran for 1,631 yards on the ground, caught 32 passes for another 363 yards and scored 16 TDs while winning the NFL rushing title.
But back to the point: Elliott is the most-equipped guy is this draft class, and really, on this team, to carry the load. That’s a fact against a vulnerable Packers run defense, period. This is where the football should go. I don’t care if Zeke has 22 carries or 32 carries or 42 carries. There are three spots in that game when he should’ve had three more carries. And there’s your real “what if’?’ to chew on.