There may or may not come a point when Dak Prescott has to win a game without Ezekiel Elliott.
And as much as at any point last season, it looked like Prescott is well-equipped to pull it off.
The Cowboys quarterback was his usual efficient self in Sunday’s 19-3 win over the Giants, but continues to show his development as a passer, which they’ll need if Elliott ever ends up serving his time.
He finished the game 24-of-39 for 268 yards and a touchdown, which was enough on a night when Elliott added 104 rushing yards.
Prescott was able to rely on Elliott and his line last year, but as he grows as a quarterback, he’s going to be asked to do more. Incorporating wide receiver Dez Bryant into the offense more effectively’s going to be central in that regard, and he was able to do just that. Bryant only had two catches for 43 yards, but he occupied Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins and left room for others.
Prescott’s always been mobile, and his rollout pass to Jason Witten as they were killing time late was a good example of the plays he’s always been able to make. But he’s making more and more kinds of passes, and that’s going to be necessary at some point.
Mostly, as Prescott gets more time under center, he continues to look more and more comfortable. That’s only going to help, regardless of Elliott’s status.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t break a sweat Sunday night, but he helped his bargaining position without doing a thing.
The Giants couldn’t do anything through the air without him in the first half, managing just 33 yards passing.
Of course, most teams without their best players tend to struggle in that area in a given game. But the Giants brought Brandon Marshall in this offseason to relieve some pressure, and he was only targeted once and didn’t catch a pass in the first half while the Cowboys were building a 16-0 lead.
For the game, the Giants had just 224 yards of total offense, the kind of anemic output no one saw coming, with or without their star receiver.
2. That being said, the lack of a consistent rushing attack didn’t help.
Even when Beckham returns, it’s a reasonable question how they’ll balance the offense, with a variety of role-playing backs.
Paul Perkins is probably the best of the lot in terms of chances of being an every down back, but he had just seven carries for 16 yards. Being in an early hole didn’t help the ground game, but the Giants have some fundamental issues on offense, and Beckham can’t fix them all.
3. It feels like so many words were written about Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith’s NFL debut before it ever happened, there’s little else to be said.
But if anything, his presence may allow Sean Lee to make even more plays.
With Smith in the middle and Lee able to play in space, it puts another playmaker out there for a Cowboys defense that’s still short of elite personnel.
Lee’s proven his ability to carry things when he’s healthy, and if Smith’s out there healthy with him, it’s a big step for a defense that’s still under construction. While the knee injury that threatened his pro career may never allow him to return to his Notre Dame form, Smith didn’t look out of place in his debut.
4. Cowboys wideout Cole Beasley one-upped Beckham.
In the fourth quarter, Beasley caught one with his back, which is much harder than using the top of your helmet like David Tyree or anything.
Beasley pinned a pass with one hand against the nameplate of his jersey, and had the presence of mind of to keep his feet down after making the grab.
It was the kind of catch Beckham had to approve of.
Beasley caught 75 passes last year, so he’s made some highlights in his day, but nothing like this one.
5. The Giants have stuck with left tackle Ereck Flowers, partly because of a lack of options. But so far, he’s done little to indicate he was the kind of turn-key left tackle teams hope they’re getting with a top 10 pick.
It’s possible that the 2015 first-rounder is better off on the right side, but the Giants don’t have the luxury of putting him there at the moment.
That’s going to require some game-planning to compensate, as he’s not going to be able to protect the never-exactly-mobile Eli Manning without some degree of help.