Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team didn't play like themselves in being routed by the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Drew Davison ddavison@star-telegram.com
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team didn't play like themselves in being routed by the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Drew Davison ddavison@star-telegram.com

Dallas Cowboys

Zeke was bad — but Dak was worse in humbling loss at Denver

September 17, 2017 10:21 PM

UPDATED September 18, 2017 07:30 AM

DENVER

Line ’em up — all of them — and fire your Super Soakers full of red wine at will, including at Jerry Jr., Charlotte and anyone else with “Dallas Cowboys” on their business card.

In the Mile High City, the Cowboys played as if they were indeed a mile high. No judgment. It’s legal, and everywhere, up here.

Perhaps that would explain why running back Ezekiel Elliott had the worst game of his life, as he effectively served the first game of his six-game suspension by the NFL that remains stuck in the league’s (kangaroo) court.

No one escapes the film room without a tongue lashing, or two, or 10, starting with the “league’s best offensive line.”

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But in our lust to love Dak Prescott, he must be taken to task for this troublesome performance. It’s one loss, and the Broncos’ defense had one of those days, but this was the type of game where the quarterback has to make some plays to give his team a chance and create a little room for his running back.

The Cowboys’ 42-17 loss is a team defeat if there ever was one. And while Zeke’s lack of production (nine carries, 8 yards) will generate the headlines, the one who made too much of it possible was the second-year quarterback.

It’s not a coincidence that on the same day Zeke had his worst game in the NFL, so too did Dak. Sunday was the first time we’ve seen evidence of Bad Dak.

This was the game every one of Dak’s detractors, who ripped his promotion over Tony Romo last season, would use to demonstrate his biggest flaws. If Dak is going to be something more than what he is, which is good, he has to make plays when his teammates can’t. That’s the way these things work.

Romo had his flaws, but he could create space when there was not much to be found. That is what the upper-tier quarterbacks do.

When coach Jason Garrett, a man who would rather eat stale dog food than say anything interesting to the media, much less call a player out in public, says the quarterback has to be better, you best take notice.

“When they play that style of defense, you have to be able to consistently attack them in the passing game,” Garrett said. “We didn’t make plays for whatever reason.”

Because he’s not dumb, Dak agrees.

“One hundred percent. If I make more plays, it gives us a chance in the game. I simply didn’t make the plays. There is no excuse for that,” Prescott said after the game.

Dak played like a backup the other team did not respect. Dak played like a backup against a defense that said, “If you’re going to beat us, the quarterback has to do it.”

On this day, he couldn’t.

Granted, it does help when a defense features two dynamic, physical cover corners in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Those two are a rare combo that can actually play physical near the line, and no Cowboys receiver was able to create much space on any route.

It helps when a defense has a pass rusher like Von Miller. The Broncos focused on Zeke, but in doing so they took away Dak. Dak was sacked twice, but a few times he ran himself into trouble.

The Broncos have a good defense, and they consistently bullied the Cowboys’ usually bullish offensive line. For the first time in his life as a pro, Dak did not have time to do much of anything.

I asked Dak if the Broncos were more physical than his offensive line.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

OK. I will, because they were.

The Cowboys could not run it, and Dak wound up throwing the ball on 15 of the game’s first 20 plays (that’s another rant). He finished the game with 50 pass attempts; no quarterback is ever going to be successful when he’s forced to throw it 50 times.

The balance and ball-control that make the Cowboys so good were non-existent Sunday.

“It just felt like we were working uphill,” Cowboys owner and Hall of Famer Jerry Jones said. “I don’t think this is a picture of our team. This is not what we’re about.”

In fairness, the defense was up to the task of equaling their mates on offense in terms of inept play.

Other than a Tank Lawrence strip sack that set up a short field and led to an early touchdown for the Cowboys, none of Dak’s defensive teammates made a play, either.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was invisible, the secondary was bad; in the end Broncos running back C.J. Anderson ran for well over 100 yards, and quarterback Trevor Siemian had the easiest four-touchdown passing day of his, or any, life.

“Bad day at the office,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “Bad day at the office.”

In an NFL season, those are going to happen. Sunday was the first truly bad day at work for Dak and Zeke since they became Cowboys.

It’s just one game, and while the quarterback play is concerning, they all deserved a good shot from your Super Soaker.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof