Catch Me If You Can: Cowboys vs. Bengals Recap
The Cincinnati Bengals came in to town for what many pegged as the Cowboys’ toughest test of the young season, a test that they would pass resoundingly. Make no mistake; the final score was not indicative of the utter dominance displayed by the team from Arlington.
If there were any doubts that the star-studded offensive line could open up running lanes against strong competition, they went out the window during the very first drive of the day. Against a team, that had up until that point been one of the better run defenses in football, the Cowboys simply dominated the line of scrimmage; if you need any proof of this, look no further than Geno Atkins’s final stat line of zero tackles. The best defensive lineman in Cincinnati was a complete non-entity, being erased by Zack Martin play after play.
Ezekiel Elliott would start his day with runs of 17, 13 and 9 yards; knifing through the Bengals defense almost entirely untouched, eventually punctuating the opening drive with a touchdown run. A feat made doubly as impressive considering that it came against a team that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 15 games and hadn’t conceded a rushing touchdown all season. Over the last three games the Cowboys are averaging 191 yards per game, while Elliott’s rushing total of 546 yards is more than 23 teams.
The highlight of the day would be Dallas’s first play of the second half, a masterful play call that was coupled with even better execution. In some ways, this play was being set up for over a month. One of the plays that the Cowboys have often used to open drives has been the bootleg rollout where the read for Dak Prescott has been to target one of his tight ends depending on who between Jason Witten and Geoff Swaim is open. It’s a play that has clearly been scouted for and has worked with less frequency as the season has progressed, a fact not lost on Jason Garrett who dialed it up again on the first drive of the second half. Everything went as perfectly as could have been imagined with two Bengals linebackers expecting a pass and veering right to contain Witten. For his part, Witten would do a great job of selling the fake, waving his hands asking for the pass even though the ball was already safely tucked in Elliott’s hands. With the entire middle of the field open, all the rookie would need to do was scamper completely unencumbered for the 60-yard score.
Another pleasant surprise was the performance of the defensive line, the supposed biggest weakness on the Cowboys’ roster. Well, if only for one week, they delivered by sacking Andy Dalton four times on the day and generally making life difficult for him the entire game. The secondary would continue its improved play with both Byron Jones and Morris Claiborne making key momentum-killing plays. In fact, it was the secondary’s ability to cover for long stretches that contributed to much of the pressure that the defensive line was able to put on Dalton.
Dak Prescott continued to perform strongly adding another 227 yards through the air, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown added for good measure. Through five games, the rookie 4th-round signal caller has kept the offense humming while the team awaits the return of their franchise quarterback in Tony Romo. Granted, it’s been done with a heavily diluted playbook but his composure and control should not be cheapened. That being said, these early successes have come against teams that are struggling mightily on the defensive end. Of their 5 opponents, the team with the highest opposition-adjusted defensive rating was the 16th ranked Giants. With the easy part of the schedule out of the way, the next few weeks are going to define just how good this Cowboys team really is.
Up next for the Cowboys is a bout against the Green Bay Packers – owners of the league’s best rushing defense – in Lambeau Field. The defense will also face its most difficult contest of the young season as they take on Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy. If last week legitimized the Cowboys’ chances for Divisional superiority, a win in Green Bay would solidify their standing as genuine contenders in the NFC.