Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns against Denver, but he was also intercepted twice. Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns against Denver, but he was also intercepted twice. Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Dallas Cowboys

Summary judgment: Cowboys can’t run, get exposed in blowout loss at Mile High

By Clarence E. Hill Jr.

chill@star-telegram.com

September 17, 2017 7:52 PM

DENVER

No need for a preliminary injunction or emergency stay.

No need to appeal to a higher court for a ruling.

The verdict is in on what happens with the Dallas Cowboys when they don’t run the ball and can’t control the clock.

The summary judgment ruled decisively in favor of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field on Sunday in a game that wasn’t as close as the final 42-17 score.

The Cowboys trailed 21-10 halftime and 35-10 in the third quarter before showing some signs of life.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Tabib returned an interception off Dak Prescott 103 yards for a touchdown with 53 seconds left in the game, setting off a party in the stands among the few Broncos faithful who stayed to the end.

Do you blame a lack of carries for running back Ezekiel Elliott?

Can the NFL Players Association file a motion to count this game as part of his six-game suspension? At the end of the third quarter, he had nine carries for 8 yards and that’s how his day would finish.

Asked when the last time he was held to fewer than 10 yards in a game, the defending NFL rushing champion had a one word answer: “Never.”

The Cowboys will find out this week if this was Elliott’s final game for a while. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on the NFL’s motion for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge blocking the six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Without Elliott being able to run the ball, Prescott was unable to do anything in the air. He completed 30 of 50 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

The Cowboys were 2 of 10 on third downs through three quarters in what was the first time since Prescott became the starter last year that the offense failed to stick to a blueprint of controlling the ball and the game.

Ironically, in a game in which Prescott set NFL records for the fewest interceptions (four) through the first 500 passes of a career and the fewest interceptions while throwing the first 25 touchdown passes to start a career, he had his worst game.

Coach Jason Garrett placed the Cowboys’ inability to sustain drives on Prescott’s inability to make plays in the passing game against a defense focused on stopping Elliott.

“When they play that style of defense you have to be able to consistently attack in the passing game,” Garrett said. “At different times we did, other times we weren’t. We didn't make the plays for whatever reasons.”

Prescott credited the Broncos’ defense, but he shouldered the blame for his lack of effectiveness, calling it a terrible feeling.

“If I make more plays, we give ourselves a chance in the game,” Prescott said. “I didn’t make plays. There is no excuse for it. I don’t know if they took that much away as much as me not making some throws. They were on us. They made me throw in tight windows and tight areas and I simply didn’t make them all. Playing like that, you won’t win the game, no matter who you play.”

Did the Broncos expose something other teams can exploit or is their defense one of the few that can pull it off?

Loading up on the run and playing man-to-man on the outside is not a concept the Cowboys haven’t faced before. But it’s one they couldn’t solve Sunday.

“That was our plan, make them throw the football,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He could have run it 15 more times for 10 more yards but that wouldn’t have helped them win. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods had a great play to make them throw the football. Nobody has played them that way.”

Blame can also go to a rash of injuries in the secondary, leaving the Cowboys with two healthy cornerbacks for the final three quarters.

The result was Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian looking like a second coming of Peyton Manning, playing easy pitch-and-catch to complete 22 of 32 passes for 231 yards and a career-high-tying four touchdown passes.

The Broncos converted 9 of 15 third downs, including 9 of 12 through the first three quarters.

But this lopsided outcome was also a case of the Cowboys getting dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

The best offensive line in football that features Pro Bowlers in tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin got little movement up front and provided little protection on passing downs.

The inability to convert third downs resulted in extreme exposure for a defense that is at its best when its snaps are limited. There was also the lack of depth at cornerback.

Even before rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie was lost in the first quarter with a hamstring and Nolan Carroll was lost in the second to a concussion, the Cowboys were plagued by a lack of a pass rush, missed tackles and poor run fits.

Linebacker Sean Lee had arguably the least impactful game of his career and linebacker Jaylon Smith was a nonfactor.

The Broncos ran at will, rushing 39 times for 178 yards, including 25 for 118 by running back C.J. Anderson.

DeMarcus Lawrence had two sacks for the second consecutive game, including one that led to a touchdown, a 3-yard pass from Prescott to Dez Bryant.

But he was not a regular force and had little help. Lawrence also cost the Cowboys points. After his sack to force a field goal, he was penalized for leverage on the kick, leaping but landing on a Broncos player.

The Broncos took the three points off the board and turned it into a touchdown to make it 14-7 in the second quarter. It was a boat race from there.

“We knew it was a tough challenge,” Lee. “We didn’t respond. We got outplayed across the board.”

The Cowboys dropped to 1-1 on the season, the same record they had a year ago when they reeled off 11 consecutive wins to finish 13-3. Perhaps, however, the Broncos provided a blueprint.

The Arizona Cardinals (1-1), also have a strong secondary, led by cornerback Patrick Peterson, are up next on a Monday night game, Sept. 25.

“I do not think this is a picture of what our team is, at all,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I won’t accept that. But I do want to say that I will look at the picture of what Denver is and give them a lot of credit. That was well-done.”

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

Dallas

0

10

0

7

17

Denver

7

14

14

7

42

First Quarter

Den—Sanders 10 pass from Siemian (McManus kick), 9:25.

Second Quarter

Dal—Bryant 3 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 12:39.

Den—C.Anderson 16 pass from Siemian (McManus kick), 5:54.

Den—Sanders 6 pass from Siemian (McManus kick), 1:38.

Dal—FG Bailey 56, :02.

Third Quarter

Den—V.Green 2 pass from Siemian (McManus kick), 7:56.

Den—C.Anderson 23 run (McManus kick), 6:14.

Fourth Quarter

Dal—Witten 28 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 14:24.

Den—Talib 103 interception return (McManus kick), :53.

A—76,919.

Dal

Den

First downs

16

26

Total Net Yards

268

380

Rushes-yards

14-40

39-178

Passing

228

202

Punt Returns

1-19

2-20

Kickoff Returns

0-0

1-25

Interceptions Ret.

1-25

2-126

Comp-Att-Int

30-50-2

22-32-1

Sacked-Yards Lost

2-10

2-29

Punts

5-49.8

3-43.0

Fumbles-Lost

0-0

2-1

Penalties-Yards

8-69

8-61

Time of Possession

26:10

33:50

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Dallas, Prescott 3-24, R.Smith 2-8, E.Elliott 9-8. Denver, C.Anderson 25-118, Charles 9-46, Siemian 5-14.

PASSING—Dallas, Prescott 30-50-2-238. Denver, Siemian 22-32-1-231.

RECEIVING—Dallas, Witten 10-97, Bryant 7-59, Beasley 4-33, Williams 4-17, E.Elliott 4-14, Butler 1-18. Denver, Thomas 6-71, Sanders 6-62, C.Anderson 3-36, Latimer 2-22, V.Green 2-11, Heuerman 1-15, Fowler 1-8, Charles 1-6.

MISSED FIELD GOALS—Denver, McManus 49.

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