Cool As A Dallas Cucumber: Cowboys vs. 49ers Week 4 Recap
Few would have been surprised had the Cowboys dropped a game on the road where they entered without their best wide receiver, starting left tackle and with their starting left guard on injured reserve; especially after they spotted the 49ers a two touchdown lead on the back of sloppy play. Yet, here we are a quarter of the way through the season with Dallas holding a 3-1 record.
Much has been made of Dak Prescott’s early successes to start the year and rightfully so, but up until this week the rookie hadn’t truly been tested with the adversity of coming from behind. Well, his first test happened and despite starting off incredibly poorly his poise and composure were enough to overcome those early struggles and lead the team to victory.
Early on, Prescott struggled with his ball placement and accuracy, sailing pass after pass out of bounds and failing to lead his receivers during their routes. However, a late hit from safety Jaquiski Tartt would end up serving as a galvanizing force for the team when Dak was hit after the whistle. Working with a brand new set of downs, the turnaround would begin in earnest with Ezekiel Elliott tearing off back-to-back nine and ten yard runs to set up Dak’s first touchdown of the evening, a perfectly placed strike to Terrance Williams. Later on, at their own 42 yard line with under two minutes left in the half, Dallas would be led down the field by Prescott who connected on five straight passes. A drive that culminated with a touchdown connection with Brice Butler –making his first start of the year in place of the injured Dez Bryant– for the game-tying touchdown. After the late hit, the 4th-round rookie connected on nine of eleven passes, throwing two touchdowns to end the half knotted at 14 apiece. His composure was on full display after a rough start; San Francisco would throw varied looks –zone, man, a few blitzes– his way hoping to throw him off his game but he remained unflappable.
The defense would also start the game off on the wrong foot with the pass rush being invisible during the first quarter, a development that led defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to dial up more blitzes than he’s normally comfortable with. Naturally, the first blitz of the day would leave Jeremy Kerley all by himself for an untouched score. Blaine Gabbert, who nobody would confuse as an elite signal caller, would convert on three consecutive third-down-and-long (12, 9 and 7 yards respectively) situations on three passes. To make matters worse, Lance Dunbar would fail to down Dallas punt on the one-yard line by stepping on the goal line, this would lead to San Francisco’s second touchdown. However, much like the offense would do, the defense turned its act around and only allowed 3 points the rest of the way.
Morris Claiborne’s redemption tour continued as the young corner made play after play; finishing with seven total tackles, one for a loss, a timely interception, as well as a crucial tackle of Torrey Smith just short of the first down marker to ice the game. Even the beleaguered JJ Wilcox would chip in with big plays in the fourth quarter, breaking up a pass to Kerley to send the 49ers to 4th down. With the return of DeMarcus Lawrence this week, the defense will finally have a capable pass-rusher to pair with a rapidly improving secondary.
At this point, what can be said about the run game that hasn’t been said over the last two weeks? Rarely do things go so according to plan as the Cowboys’ investment in the run game has. After struggling early on, Ezekiel Elliott is sitting on consecutive games of 135+ rushing yards. As it currently stands, the Cowboys lead the league in drives of 10+ plays, a critical component of their ball-control, possession-denying philosophy. What’s more, up until the end of game kneel-downs, Dallas was over 200 yards rushing; all this while playing two games without the best left tackle in football (Tyron Smith) and their starting left guard (La’el Collins) on injured reserve.
Up next for the Cowboys, their toughest test of the young season against the Cincinnati Bengals. A win against AJ Green and friends would go a long way in legitimizing the Cowboys’ hopes of challenging for the Division crown.