The Cowboys may have one more game under their belts than any other NFL team not named the Arizona Cardinals, but that did not stop the Indianapolis Colts from giving the Cowboys a run for their money. Nonetheless, the Cowboys halted a Colts comeback after promising Colts rookie quarterback, Stephen Morris, led a scoring drive with a minute remaining.
For the Cowboys, two questions needed to be addressed entering this game. First, how would the offense fare without standout halfback Ezekiel Elliott? Elliott recently was handed a six-game suspension following the NFL probe into Elliott’s domestic violence accusations and documented misconduct over the past year and a half. Second, would linebacker Jaylon Smith be able to finally see some on the field play, his first time taking the field since suffering a brutal knee injury while still playing for Notre Dame Fighting Irish on January 1, 2016 against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl?
The offense came out firing on all cylinders. Cowboys fans let out a sigh of relief when Dak Prescott & Co. methodically drove the field and scored a touchdown on the very first drive of the game without Elliott in the backfield. Prescott targeted his two most trustworthy receivers, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, early and often, completing two passes to each of them on four total attempts. Running back Darren McFadden, of course filling in for the suspended Elliott, averaged 5.3 yards on three carries on the first drive behind the most productive offensive line in the NFL. Prescott capped this efficient drive off with a beautiful back shoulder pass to Bryant, who made two defenders miss on his way to the end zone. Prescott finished the game with 106 yards through the air and one touchdown, while Bryant tallied 55 yards on two catches with his one touchdown.
After the first drive, the Cowboys offense stalled for the remainder of the first half after a McFadden fumble in the Colts red zone and a Kellen Moore strip sack returned for a Colts touchdown. Once again, Moore proved just how unreliable he is as a backup quarterback, amassing 131 yards but completing only 10 of his 21 pass attempts. The Cowboys backfield, on the other hand, flourished behind McFadden, Rod Smith, and Alfred Morris in Elliott’s absence. All three of them averaged at least 5.4 yards per carry and had a sizable run of at least 14 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Smith showcased his flashiness and ability to dissect the offense on a Colts third down late in the first quarter when he wrapped up tight end Jack Doyle and ended the drive. After the game, Smith described his Cowboys debut as “remarkable,” an encouraging sign for a defense that struggled mightily last season. Out of the rookies, cornerbacks Dejaun Butler and Marquez White outperformed their expectations Saturday night and seem to be making good headway. Rookie defensive end Taco Charlton, the first round draft selection, proved to be underwhelming once again.
All in all, the renowned Cowboys offense looks to pick up right where they left off last season, this time without Elliott for the first six weeks. Keep an eye on rookie third-string quarterback Cooper Rush when the Cowboys host the Oakland Raiders next week, as he has dazzled in all three of the Cowboys’ preseason games.
Photo: Andrew Dieb (Icon Sportswire)