clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dolphins at Cowboys preview: Ezekiel Elliott snap count ends, Super Bowl possibilities, and why Taco Charlton is in Miami now

New, comments
Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins visit the Dallas Cowboys today in a Week 3 contest. The former Super Bowl VI competitors, coming from the two conferences of the NFL, only face off every four years, meaning the Dolphins have not played the Cowboys since 2015, and have not been in Dallas since 2011.

The last time the teams met, a Week 11 game in 2015, featured Dan Campbell as Miami’s head coach, with Ryan Tannehill throwing touchdown passes to Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron while the Cowboys, who won the game 24-14, scored on a Rolando McCalin intereption return, passes from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant, and a Dan Bailey field goal.

The last time the Dolphins were in Dallas, Tony Sparano was coaching the team , Shayne Graham was kicking, and Brandon Marshall caught a touchdown pass from Matt Moore. Yeah, it has been a while.

To get a better idea of the Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott edition of the Cowboys, I turned to Dave Halprin, the Editor-in-Chief of SB Nation’s Cowboys team site, Blogging the Boys. You can check out my answers to Halprin’s Dolphins-related questions over on their site as well.

1. There was an article in the Dallas Morning News this week headlined, “The training wheels are coming off for Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott,” with the premise that Dallas has had Elliott on a severe snap-count the last couple of weeks, but that he will be cleared for full use this week. Should Dolphins fans expect to see a full load of Elliott, and how has he looked early in the season as he returns from his holdout?

The Cowboys will no longer have Elliott on a snap count, but he was pretty active already last week against Washington, so this is not as big of a deal as it sounds. He had 23 carries last week for 111 yards which is a pretty healthy workload. The only noticeable time he was out was a series in the third quarter when the Cowboys rested him and let rookie Tony Pollard see some action. In reality, he was pretty active last week so there is not much more room to use him. 23 carries is pretty standard. As for how he has looked, he really doesn’t look any different than previous seasons. He’s averaging over 4.5 yards per carry and all of his physical attributes seem to be there. He came back from the holdout in shape and at a good weight, so the transition back to football practices and games wasn’t too dramatic.

2. Dak Prescott through two games looks like he is ready to make a case for being among the NFL elite quarterbacks and join in the conversation for league MVP. He has an 82.3 percent completion rate, a 10.9 yards per attempt average, seven touchdowns to one interception, and a 142.9 passer rating. Is his play just a matter of him growing into the position or is something else leading to his success at this point?

We could wrote a whole book chapter on this particular subject, but I will try to be as succinct as possible. In my mind there are four things that are contributing to his growth as a quarterback this season.

The first one is what you mentioned, him growing into the position. That includes the very hard work he has put in. Prescott has a great work ethic and is constantly looking for ways to improve. He’s very serious about this part of his game so you have to give him credit for growing to the level he is playing at, we don’t want to shortchange the work he has done. The second factor is new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. He’s scrapped the Cowboys stale, old-fashioned offensive scheme and brought a new one in line with what modern offenses are doing. Pre-snap motion, multiple formations, RPOs, and other things have allowed Prescott to shine. Third, the offensive line. They are back to their dominating selves and Prescott has had plenty of time to throw. And last, new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna has helped Prescott with his footwork, mechanics and reading the field. All of this has come together to elevate Prescott’s game.

3. While things are looking up for the Cowboys, as with every team, there are still weaknesses that they are trying to disguise. Where can Miami exploit weaknesses on both the offense and the defense for Dallas?

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing because of how well the Cowboys have been playing on that side of the ball. Probably the best thing to do is to not allow the Cowboys to get chunk plays and force them to march it slowly down the field. You want to force as many plays as you can on drives in hopes of a mistake, a turnover, a penalty or a blown pass protection. The offense is hitting on all cylinders right now so don’t make it easy for them and keep everything in front of you. Against the defense, I would establish the run. The Cowboys defense has been up and down in containing the run recently, so I would try to take advantage of that. Then work the safeties with tight ends and wide receivers in the middle and deep part of the field. Starting safety Xavier Woods will be out, so I would test the safeties often.

4. The Cowboys have a start to the year that includes games versus the New York Giants, at the Washington Redskins, versus the Dolphins, at the New Orleans Saints (without Drew Brees), versus the Packers, and at the New York Jets. Wins in the first two games have them set up for a potential 5-1 or 6-0 start to the year. What are realistic expectations for the Cowboys in 2019?

Coming into the season the expectations were that the team would certainly be competitive and that they had a real chance at defending their NFC East crown and making the playoffs. Now that we have seen the new offense under Kellen Moore work like it has, the expectations have grown. The playoffs are now expected and there is optimism that this team can make a deep run, possibly into the Super Bowl. Of course, it’s early in the season and so many things can happen, and as you mentioned the schedule has been incredibly soft, so we’ll have to see where we are in the second half of the year when the Cowboys schedule gets much tougher.

5. The Cowboys gave up on Taco Charlton this week, jettisoning their 2017 first-round pick, with Miami claiming him. Why was Dallas willing to waive him already, what should Dolphins fans expect from him, and will a change of scenery help him reach his potential?

Taco has the physical makeup of what you want from a defensive end, he is big and has length to go along with decent athleticism. On paper, it looks like he would be a force on the defensive line. But he never was. One thing is that he never really developed an arsenal of moves and relied on his swim move entirely too much. The Cowboys tried to get him to incorporate a range of rushing attacks but he generally defaulted to what he already knew. Perhaps more importantly, though, was his drive to succeed and his attitude. He just never seemed to really want it, to work for it. If things didn’t work out he tended to sulk or give up somewhat. The Cowboys benched him for a few games last year because of a poor attitude and they had a very frank conversation with him about it this summer. Maybe new scenery will do him good. With a fresh start, perhaps he can get his mind right and become a contributor to the Dolphins defense.

Bonus: How much should we expect to see from Robert Quinn this week as he makes his Cowboys debut?

I think he will start but the Cowboys are a team that likes to rotate their defensive line throughout the game. So he’ll play, but he’ll likely be in a rotation and see maybe a third to half the defensive snaps. He is still recovering from a hand injury so they may want to pace him a bit.