By Dwain Price, NDG Sports Special Contributor
FRISCO – Football coaches can stomach a lot of things. But what they refuse to stomach are less than a full effort from their players.
Case in point, during the Dallas Cowboys’ embarrassing 42-17 road loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, running back Ezekiel Elliott was heavily criticized for not at least trying to chase down two Broncos defenders who intercepted a couple of passes thrown by quarterback Dak Prescott. That didn’t sit well with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
“Obviously, one of the things that we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there’s a turnover, everybody’s involved,” Garrett said. “An offensive player becomes a defensive player on a fumble or an interception.
“Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I’ve ever been around. He loves to play, he loves to practice and I think we’ve seen that through his first year of playing. And those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor he was, and we have to get that addressed.”
Garrett wanted to make sure he wasn’t singling out Elliott as the sole reason the Cowboys got thoroughly whipped by the Broncos, dropping their record to 1-1. There clearly was enough blame to go around as the defense was a no-show, the running game was non-existent, and the passing game was marginal at best.
“One of the things that’s the foundation of our football team is fight,” Garrett said. “We’re going to compete and fight and scratch and claw, and that’s one of the reasons we love Zeke Elliott (because) that’s what he is.
“He competes, he battles, he’s made great blocks throughout his career with us. That’s just what he’s all about. Again, those plays were uncharacteristic of him. We’ll certainly address that with him, but we have to address that with our entire team (because) that’s not the way we play.”
A Cowboys defense that was extremely dominant in the 19-3 season-opening win over the New York Giants barely made the Broncos crack a sweat. Denver racked up 380 yards in total offense, while Elliott rushed nine times for meager eight yards – a career-low for him, he said, on any level.
While the Cowboys’ running game was bogged down seemingly in a pile of cement, Prescott completed just 30 of 50 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns and those two critical interceptions.
“We couldn’t get any movement off the ball, we couldn’t really establish the run game,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t really get things started up front. We just really weren’t on the field that long.”
And about those puny eight rushing yards?
“You can’t forget about it,” Elliott said. “You’ve got to evaluate what happened and you’ve got to build on it.”
Rough game for Prescott
Considering he only had four interceptions in his first 18 NFL games and two against the Broncos, this was the most challenging game of Prescott’s young career. And he didn’t come out of it unscathed.
“They did a good job of matching us up, throwing everything they did at us, but I think for the most part we weren’t ourselves,” Prescott said. “If I make more plays we give ourselves a chance in that game, and I just simply didn’t make the plays.
“There’s no excuse for it. Playing like that, you won’t win a game no matter who you play.”
The Broncos have one of the best secondaries in the business, and it showed. Their defensive front seven isn’t bad, either.
“I don’t know they necessarily took that much away from us more than it was me just not making some throws for the most part,” Prescott said. “They did a good job, they’re sticky defenders, they were on us, they made me throw in tight windows and tight areas and I just simply didn’t make some of them.
“I feel like if I would have made some of those plays on the outside I probably would have forced them to get in a zone more than the man coverage that they were in the majority of the night. Then usually that’s when our run game hits.”
Not even the game being halted for 62 minutes late in the first quarter because of severe weather could help the Cowboys. That just prolonged the inevitable.
“We weren’t doing our jobs,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “As a defense you have to play together collectively, and when we do that we’re successful.
“And when you don’t, all it takes is one person to mess up and it creates havoc.”
After what transpired against the Broncos, consider the havoc created.
But tight end Jason Witten, who caught 10 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown and also dropped another TD, would like Cowboy Nation to exercise a sense of calm at this early stage of the season and not read too much into the lopsided loss to the Broncos.
“We just didn’t execute from beginning to end,” Witten said. “We always focus on us as an offense, and we didn’t play very well collectively as a group and certainly there’s a lot of areas to improve.”
Witten figures the Cowboys will be back on solid ground by the time they play the Cardinals in Arizona on Monday night.
“This team won’t panic, we’ll get back to work, we know what we’re capable of doing and we’ve got to be accountable for how we played,” Witten said. “We’ll evaluate it and stick together and we’ll bounce back.”
That’s the same tune wide receiver Dez Bryant was singing in what turned out to be the Cowboys’ third-worst loss in the Jason Garrett era.
“We just didn’t play up to our standards,” said Bryant, who was targeted 16 times by Prescott and wound up with seven receptions for 59 yards and a TD against Denver. “We know exactly who we are.
“We’re not going to let this get us down. We’re just going to get back to work and do what we know what to do, and do what we know how to do, and that’s play good football.”