DETROIT – Since 2014, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive DNA has been their run game with DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott leading the league in rushing in 2014, 2016 and 2018. With the way quarterback Dak Prescott is playing, that appears to be changing.
This was a must-win for the Cowboys (6-4), who had lost four of their past seven games, considering the Philadelphia Eagles are nipping at their heels in the NFC East and their wild-card chances are almost nil.
And Prescott was at his best.
In the first half, Prescott threw for 274 yards, the most in a half in his four-year career. He hit seven different players and did not need to rely on Amari Cooper, who had just one catch for 7 yards in the first half.
In the second half, the Cowboys almost exclusively went to Prescott. Elliott had only six carries in the third and fourth quarters.
"I mean, I know I can continue to play better, play better than I did tonight. That's what I focus on," Prescott said. "I don't think about performances in the past. I'm not going to sit here and look too much on this performance. It's about what we can do now, how can we get better. We're going to close this book and next one is a very, very good opponent [New England], so I got to keep playing like this and put our team in position to win games."
Prescott made big plays with Michael Gallup and Cobb each going for more than 100 yards apiece. He made small plays, like the 17-yard screen pass to Elliott that gave the Cowboys a two-score advantage. Prescott made a sidearm flip to the running back, who used key blocks from Zack Martin and Jason Witten to get to the end zone.
To clinch the win, Prescott hit tight end Blake Jarwin on a bootleg pass, allowing him to take a knee for the win.
"[Prescott is] as good as anyone in the league, and I think everyone on this team thinks he is," right guard Zack Martin said. "So as long as we protect him, he's going to be able to make plays down the field to our receivers. That's on us to keep him clean.'
If the Cowboys are going to make a playoff run, it will be on Prescott's arm. Times have changed.
Troubling trend: As much as Prescott can be praised, is as much as the running game can be questioned. Two weeks ago, Elliott was lauded for his 139-yard effort against the New York Giants for picking up the tough yards, if not breaking the long runs. But something is not right with the Cowboys' running game. After rushing for 47 yards on 20 carries last week against Minnesota, Elliott was held to 45 yards on 16 carries by the Lions, who entered the game allowing 126.7 yards on the ground per game. Elliott has now gone 158 carries since his most recent run of more than 20 yards, 27 yards in Week 2 at Washington.
Bold prediction for next week: The Cowboys' defense next week against New England cannot have as many breakdowns as they had against the Lions. Dallas has been able to overcome general sloppiness in its wins against the Giants, Washington, Miami and Detroit, all sub.-500 teams. Winning at New England is hard enough. Against the Lions, the Cowboys lacked discipline up front with multiple offside penalties and a fourth-down neutral-zone infraction, allowed a third-and-14 conversion and gave up three plays of more than 20 yards to an offense led by a quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was making his second start. Patriots QB Tom Brady is a different animal. OK, maybe that's not so bold.