I can think of only two times the Cowboys wanted to be like the Detroit Lions, and neither happened in the last half-century.
One was in selecting a silver-and-blue color scheme in the early ’60s, even if they chose different shades. The second came in 1966 when president Tex Schramm got his pal, commissioner Pete Rozelle, to make Dallas the second stop on the TV dial every Thanksgiving.
Beyond that, neither the Cowboys nor anyone else really wants to emulate the Lions, now 0 for 53 in Super Bowl trips. I mean how could America’s Team ever be tossed into the same company with a club that struggles to be Detroit’s Team, at least when the Red Wings are putting the puck in the net?
And yet here we are. The Cowboys are 5-4, trying to hang onto their share of the NFC East lead before the schedule becomes more brutal, and they find themselves up against a Lions team they are reluctantly starting to copy. Dallas likes to think of itself as something special, a unique brand that has the TV ratings and the weekly attendance to prove it.
Here’s what else the Cowboys have proven over time.
Since the end of the magical 11-game win streak in 2016, the Cowboys have played 48 games. That’s three full seasons (including playoff games). They are 27-21. That’s about as 9-7 over a lengthy period of time as one can get. Cowboys fans can offer plenty of excuses for why the record has not been better — Zeke’s suspension, the time management forgot to provide a decent wide receiver, the time coaches failed to realize Chaz Green was overmatched in Atlanta — but 31 other teams can tell you reasons their records aren’t better over the last three years.
The Cowboys are a 9-7 team. It’s on them either to prove otherwise over the next seven weeks or to, in all likelihood, finish outside the playoff picture again and figure out if maybe coaching has something to do with their shortcomings.
In fairness, the Lions are more of an 8-8 team most of the time, even if they’re struggling at 3-5-1 right now. In the eight seasons that Highland Park’s Matthew Stafford played all 16 games (2011 through last year), the Lions were 11-5, 10-6, 9-7 twice, 7-9 twice, 6-10 and 4-12. They made the playoffs three times and never won again although (excuses again) Lions fans can tell you how they beat Dallas in 2014 if not for the officials at AT&T Stadium down the stretch.
Regardless, until the Cowboys fix things, they are dangerously close to turning Dak Prescott into Stafford in terms of achieving limited results with a talented quarterback. Prescott has never missed a game and is heading down the stretch of his fourth season. This will be the first in which he throws for 4,000 yards and, ranking third in the league in yards per game, he could push toward 5,000.
Stafford topped the 5,000-yard mark in his first full year and followed that with six straight 4,000-yard seasons. You want yards? Stafford’s got yards. Empty yards have been the defining storyline of his career.
Surely he can be held accountable for some of the Lions’ more untimely defeats, but the club’s failure to complement him all over the field, especially with a running game, has maintained Detroit’s place in the NFL’s land of also-rans. The Cowboys have the running game to support Prescott, of course, but even it has been diminished in two big games this season. The fact that Zeke Elliott has played every week and has one more 20-yard carry than I do is alarming.
It’s not just occasional breakdowns in that area that have damaged the Cowboys’ hopes. The defense’s failure to pressure Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins last week or even the Jets’ Sam Darnold last month may end up costing this team a trip to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the yards pile up and up for Prescott as he closes in on not just a huge contract, but a rightful place among the top 5-6 quarterbacks in the league. On top of all the other numbers, Dak’s now the top-rated deep passer this year even while his receivers have the league’s most drops.
Had you been making a quarterback list each year, with a better supporting cast for Stafford, he would have earned a spot in that top five at least a couple of times the last decade. Without it, his performances are forgettable.
The Cowboys’ job Sunday and the next six weeks is to keep Prescott from having one of the greatest seasons in team history that leads to nothing.
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