After the first 13 games of the 2016 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys are sitting atop the NFC East Division with an 11-2 record. They lead the second-place New York Giants by two games with three to play. Surprisingly, it’s the Giants who have handed the Cowboys their only two losses on the season. Most recently this past Sunday with a slim 10-7 loss.
But let’s step back a bit and try to figure out how Dallas has been able to get to this point. I mean, they were coming off of a 4-12 season in 2015 that saw quarterback Tony Romo get injured twice. Romo suffered a broken collarbone in week 2 and was able to return in week 11. But the following week in the Thanksgiving game he injured his shoulder again and was lost for the season.
Romo returned healthy in 2016 but in the 3rd preseason game he suffered a compression fracture in his back that would sideline him for two to three months. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, backup quarterback Kellen Moore had suffered a broken tibia earlier in training camp and the team had to turn to rookie Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State.
Prescott had been drafted in the fourth round and was looked at as a developmental prospect. But a strong showing in his preseason appearances gave the Cowboys hope that he could hold the position until Romo recovered later in the season.
And Prescott didn’t disappoint. After an opening day loss to the Giants, the rookie led the team to 11 straight wins and performed with skill and poise beyond his years. Prescott has thrown for 20 touchdowns on the season and has only been intercepted 4 times. He s also a threat to run the ball and is the team’s third leading rusher with 218 yards and 5 touchdowns. And even though Romo is ready to return, the Cowboys are sticking with Prescott at this time.
But it’s not just Prescott that has led the Cowboys resurgence. Already with one of the top offensive lines in football, Dallas decided they needed a top-notch running threat. So in the 2016 NFL Draft they selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with their first round pick.
Elliott has been everything they thought he could be as he is the NFL’s leading rusher through 13 games with almost 1,400 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. With Elliott churning up the yards and running down the clock, it’s allowed Dallas to be a true ball control offense that has helped Prescott manage the games rather than having to try and win it himself.
And you can’t forget what Dallas has done on defense as well. They currently rank as the 2nd best in the NFL against the run and linebacker Sean Lee is the second leading tackler in the league with a total of 130 tackles so far this season.
We haven’t even mentioned other talented Cowboys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, but they have also been key contributors to the team’s turnaround. As the season winds down and the games take on a larger meaning, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys, especially their young stars perform.