One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Jon Machota Nov 21, 2021
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sunday was supposed to be about Dak Prescott versus Patrick Mahomes. The expectation was two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks battling in a high-scoring contest that might be looked back on as the game of the year. The Cowboys hoped to show that they could go into Arrowhead Stadium and deliver a statement win over a Kansas City Chiefs team that has played in the past two Super Bowls.
None of that happened.
Mahomes was more impressive than Prescott, and that’s not saying much. Neither threw a touchdown pass in a highly underwhelming 19-9 Chiefs’ win.
Mahomes was 23-of-37 passing for 260 yards, one interception and a 71.9 passer rating. Prescott was 28-of-43 for 216 yards, two interceptions, one lost fumble and a 57.9 passer rating, the fifth-lowest of his career.
There were some bright spots for the Cowboys on defense. Holding Kansas City to a field goal on the Chiefs’ final 10 possessions was one. Receiving further evidence that they have an absolute game-wrecker in rookie linebacker/defensive end Micah Parsons was another.
“He’s a special player,” Mahomes said of Parsons after the game. “I mean, to be that good of a linebacker and be able to play defensive end, there’s not a lot of guys like that in this league. He has a high motor, he chased me down on that sack, the strip-sack. And the whole game, he was in there the whole time battling and battling.”
But this piece isn’t about the positives. This one is about the issues that stood out Sunday afternoon as Dallas dropped to 7-3 on the season.
1. Dak Prescott needs to be better. This team goes as Prescott goes and he just wasn’t good enough on Sunday. Perhaps it was a bad sign of things to come when he overshot Michael Gallup on that right sideline deep ball on Dallas’ first play from scrimmage. Prescott wasn’t as rusty as he was against Denver, but he also wasn’t good enough to take the game over when there were opportunities. Part of that was certainly poor protection up front. We’ll discuss that shortly. But to achieve the goals the Cowboys have, Prescott has to play at an elite level. He did not do that against the Chiefs.
“Never discouraged, but pissed off, yeah sure,” Prescott said. “I’m pissed when I don’t play well or the team doesn’t play well, or the offense doesn’t play well for the fact of tonight, in general, especially when you have the chance to come out and play against a team that has been in the Super Bowl the last two years and prove to ourselves and one another what we’re capable of.
“It’s a short week and we’ve got to put it past us. We know the stretch ahead. There’s a lot that we can learn from tonight and this is a resilient team that is going to continue to fight and get better, I can promise you that.”
2. Offensive line struggles. Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones was a monster. He had his way with just about anyone who tried to block him. Zack Martin was beaten for a sack on the inside. I can’t remember the last time that has happened. Last year against Aaron Donald? There’s probably been another mixed in there somewhere. Jones blew past La’el Collins on another occasion off the edge. Those will happen from time to time. But the issues on display are ones we’ve seen too often this season. The group is viewed as a team strength, but that definitely wasn’t the case Sunday.
This is not the “Great Wall of Dallas” that it has been called in the past. To achieve that, they would at least need a healthy Tyron Smith at left tackle and Collins at right tackle. That has only happened once this season, and it was in Week 1. There are going to be issues at left guard and center. Everyone knew that was a possibility entering the season. To get back to being one of the league’s top offensive lines, Smith and Collins have to be starting on the outside and Martin at right guard. The Cowboys are hopeful that they will have that combination back on Thursday.
“If he is ready, he is ready,” Mike McCarthy said of Smith after the game. “If he is not, he is not. Hopefully, he will be ready to go on Thursday. It is a long year and obviously time is very important to our football team. When he is ready to go, he will go.”
But even when Smith returns, how long will he be able to avoid a setback or another injury? It has become a legitimate question with the amount of NFL miles he has put on his body.
3. Wide receiver depth. Maybe the depth at the position isn’t as good as we thought. Judging by what we saw against the Chiefs, if the Cowboys have a legitimate chance of reaching the Super Bowl, they need all three of their starting wide receivers. Could they overcome one being out? Possibly. But they didn’t have Amari Cooper (Reserve/COVID-19) going into the game and it was an obvious issue early. And then after losing CeeDee Lamb (concussion) at halftime, it only got worse. And now they go into Thursday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders with Gallup being the only member of the trio expected to play. Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown and Malik Turner have proven to be quality wide receivers if they have to step up one spot on the depth chart, asking them to each bump up two might be too much to ask.
“Folks just have to step up,” Gallup said. “That’s all on us. We have to make those plays when they come to us. We just didn’t make the plays today. That’s on us. We’ll take that.”
Prescott was asked after the game about Cooper being out two games because he is not vaccinated.
“I mean, it’s unfortunate not having him,” Prescott said. “To say the decision he made, I mean I’m vaccinated and I could get it and be out two games. Let’s try not to knock the guy or put the guy down for a personal decision. I don’t think there’s anybody that comes back under 10 days. You give me that stat on guys that are either vaccinated or unvaccinated coming back faster than that time and tested out, then OK, we’ll go from there. That’s my teammate, that’s my brother, we’re going to support him, that’s his decision, as I said way back in training camp when you guys asked me this question. Unfortunate we don’t have him, but I know he’ll come back and be beneficial for us late in the season.”
Cedrick Wilson (Denny Medley / USA Today)
4. Overall health. Is the Cowboys team that took the field Sunday good enough to make the playoffs? Sure. Is it good enough to reach the Super Bowl? No. There were just too many missing key pieces to overcome against Kansas City. The good news for the Cowboys is that they should get all of them back in time to make a playoff run. Getting Smith, Cooper and Lamb back significantly improves the offense. Getting DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore back could make the defense elite. That is if the rest of the group continues to build on what it did against the Chiefs.
“We didn’t win the game, but by no means do we feel any less about who we are as a football team,” McCarthy said. “Let’s make that clear. We didn’t play as well as we would like. … We are not discouraged. We were defeated tonight, but with that, the way we look at our team, we won’t look at it any differently than the time we walked in here today.”
5. Run-game issues. It really hasn’t been great the past four games. And this issue goes right back to the offensive line. But Ezekiel Elliott is also not close to 100 percent.
“Just the same knee,” Elliott said of the injury he suffered during the game. “The same knee injury I’ve been dealing with. It’s feeling better, but I rolled up on it, and kind of hurt it. Overall, it’s definitely getting better.”
Elliott managed only 32 yards on nine carries Sunday. He had only 41 yards on 14 carries against Atlanta and 50 yards on 16 carries at Minnesota. The offense can win with a healthy passing game, but it seems unlikely that it will be able to win multiple playoff games without a much better running game than it has shown recently.