DALLAS - When I pitched this article idea to editorial (that’s right, I can use big league words like pitch!), I had one worry; that the Cowboys’ predilection towards playing close games would have me summarizing a lot of last-second field goal attempts.
Through one month of the season, I’m happy to have been proven wrong. In fact, I’m quite happy about a lot of the Cowboys’ season so far. This is strange!
The Play: 5:04 in the second quarter, Dallas up 14-0, 3rd and 3 from the CIN 45
The game started with the Cincinnati Bengals slightly favored to win at 50.1. It was the closest they would come, both in terms of Win Probability and in score.
Dallas took the first two drives of the game 64 and 89 yards, respectively, for touchdowns. Sandwiched in between were effective examples of bend-don’t-break defensive stands, allowing Cincinnati 50 yards in 8 plays (resulting in a punt) and 42 yards in 10 plays (again with the punt).
Dallas had the ball for the third time on the afternoon and had the chance to land an effective knockout punch. The drive started auspiciously, with a Dak Prescott incompletion. He would only throw five more of those on the day; but his next pass attempt was one of those five (coming after three Alfred Morris runs for 28 yards). On second and 10, he hit Brice Butler for seven to set up third and short, with Dallas up 14-0 and at 89.8% to win.
If you’ve been in Dallas for any stretch of the last decade and a half, you know what comes on third and short- his name is Jason Witten, and he is a refrigerator given legs.
And that was indeed the plan. Cincy tried to flood the short zone with linebackers, putting three men just past the first down line in the center of the field. And Prescott could have dumped off to Ezekiel Elliott for what likely would have been a 4-6 yard gain, but he patiently waited for a bigger target a bit more downfield.
Somehow, in 3rd and 3, Jason Witten was allowed a very clean release from the tight end position. #26 Josh Shaw seemed to read Witten’ read of the zone coverage and tried to cover him, but Witten had a step on him. That’s right, in 2016, Jason Witten can still find a gear high enough to get past a 24 year old, 200 pound cornerback. That alone deserves celebration.
And then, after Prescott zipped him the ball in stride, there is what Witten did after the catch. The ensuing rumbling run was shades of 2006 Witten. He slips Shaw’s tackle, and finds safety Derron Smith, #31, a few steps ahead of him.
Look, we all know who Jason Witten is, he’s a dump it in and fall forward guy, right? Look, it’s no slight to the man. He’s going to Canton and he deserves every inch of the bust. But at 34 years old, with an odometer that would turn you off from a 2001 Honda Accord, you just can’t expect Jason Witten to run down the field.
Except for this time. Smith runs right at Witten, and finds himself posterized. It’s not your fault, Derron. You were just the bug on the windshield this time. Witten stiff-armed Smith so bad that fragments of the man’s soul were lodged in Witten’s hand and need to be removed after an Epsom salt soak. Witten found another ten yards after the Smith contact, down to the 14.
That 31 yards brought the W% for Dallas up to 93.7. It would never waver lower than that again on the day; one play later a Cole Beasley 14 yard catch and scamper touchdown made it 21-0 and a 95.8% likelihood of a Dallas win. Sometimes boring games are good, even if they lead you to spicy quarterback controversy discussions (which are not good).
Can Derron Smith even look his family in the eye anymore? Hit up Joe on Twitter @thejoeursery with your thoughts.
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