Elliott's attitude criticized in Cowboys' loss

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

(TSX / STATS) -- FRISCO, Texas -- It wasn't so much that the Dallas Cowboys got beat on Sunday in blowout fashion to the Denver Broncos.

The talk on Monday centered on the contrasting actions of their two leading performers, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott in the face of the adversity.

Prescott showed leadership and a contagious competitive fire while Elliott stood for an embarrassing lack of effort.

Head coach Jason Garrett wasn't pleased with Elliott's efforts after the Broncos intercepted Prescott twice, including a 103-yard return for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib late in the game. Elliott wasn't seen trying to prevent that score, and had his hands on his hips on an earlier interception as Chris Harris Jr. returned it 23 yards.

"One of the things we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there is a turnover, everybody is involved," Garrett said. "If you're an offensive player, become a defensive player on a fumble or an interception. Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I've ever been around. He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we've seen that through his first year playing. Those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor that he was and we have to get that addressed."

Expect the Cowboys to address it by showing those plays to the team this week as a teaching moment of what not to do. Expect them also to show plays where Elliott showcases his competitive nature.

Garrett said he had "no idea" why Elliott had such an uncharacteristic game, although frustration likely set in with Elliott who had only 8 yards on nine carries.

"I haven't spoken to him specifically. He certainly could have been frustrated," Garrett said. "Obviously, he had been very productive as a running back over the course of his career and certainly in the NFL up to this point and he had a game where he carried the ball nine times for 8 yards, so there's no question frustration could have set in."

Garrett recalled Elliott's college coach, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, telling the organization that Elliott is "the best player he's ever had when the ball is not in his hands."

That's part of the reason why the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth overall pick last season.

"One of the things that is the foundation of our football team is fight. We're going to compete and fight and scratch and claw," Garrett said. "That's what we're going to be. That's one of the reasons we love Zeke Elliott. That's what he is. Watch him play - he competes, he battles.

"Those plays were uncharacteristic of him. We'll certainly address it with him, but we have to address that with our entire team. That's not the way we play."

Garrett praised Prescott for how he handled his forgettable day. Prescott had his second career multi-interception game, was sacked twice and hit seven times and injured his ankle on a run.

But Garrett admired how Prescott didn't sulk in the moment and kept attacking as best he could. Garrett pointed to a sequence late in the game when Broncos linebacker Von Miller sacked Prescott on second down and then scrambled for 11 yards on third down to give the Cowboys a manageable fourth-and-three.

Garrett raved about the fight Prescott displayed throughout the game.

"Watch the tape of No. 4. No. 4 is a special player," Garrett said. "It was not an easy game for him. Got knocked around a little bit, got banged up early. And talk about a guy who battles. Talk about a guy who fights. Talk about a guy who leads the team under adversity, under duress. It was special.

"I reflect back on the best quarterbacks I've been around. Oftentimes the games I remember most are the ones that the situations are the most challenging. And you see how they respond. How they respond to a turnover, how they respond to guys hitting them in the face over and over and over again. You've heard me say this before, my old man says you can hit him in the face with a shovel and he keeps coming back. That's what Dak Prescott again demonstrated yesterday. I have no real concern about him responding the right way."

"Oftentimes people when you win a game, they think everything is great. It's not true. When you lose a game, they think everything is terrible. That's not true either. It's probably somewhere in the middle. Build on the good stuff, address the bad stuff and keep moving forward."

--Hall of Fame NFL Network hosts Deion Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson didn't hold back in criticizing the Dallas Cowboys star players Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott following Sunday's 42-17 blowout loss to the Denver Broncos.

Tomlinson was the harshest on Elliott, saying the defending NFL rushing champion quit on his team as he struggled for a career-low 8 yards on nine carries.

"First his attitude on the sideline," said Tomlinson when asked what he meant by Elliott quitting on the NFL Network postgame show. "Clearly, he didn't have any communication with his teammates. But also, he didn't want to talk to his teammates. Sometimes when things are going wrong, as a leader of that team, as a captain, you have to step up and rally the troops. You have to go to the offensive line and say, 'I know it's tough but let's keep battling, let's keep fighting.' You have to go to the quarterback and say, 'Hey man, I'm not getting it done today - you have to step it up.' You have to rally the troops. ... They need him to do that because last year, he led the league in rushing. So everybody is looking at him as the top dog. So if you want to be the top dog, you have to do it on and off the field."

Tomlinson said the Broncos might found the blueprint to stop the Cowboys' vaunted offense in how they loaded up on the run and forced quarterback Dak Prescott to beat them through the air, but he again said Elliott quit.

"What Denver did, they just laid out the blueprint," Tomlinson said. "I was surprised by how physical they were, the Denver Broncos against this offensive line. Zeke, to his credit, he didn't have any room today. He was running, getting hit in the backfield, making moves in the backfield. But all of that is OK. I didn't like the way he quit today. I didn't like that. He absolutely quit on his team today."

Sanders added Bryant to mix, pointing out his second straight impactless performance going against the league's top cornerbacks. He had seven catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., which is better than the two-catch outing he had in the season opener against New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

But Bryant also had a dropped pass that Harris picked off and was the targeted receiver on a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown by Talib.

With Elliott bottled up, Sanders said the Cowboys had to get difference-making plays from Bryant on the outside to make the Broncos pay for their defensive strategy. He said it's what you expect from the top receivers.

"Dez to me is one of the best receivers in the game," Sanders said. "But this is the streets talk. When Dez plays against a dog, Dez has to hunt. And the last few times that Dez has gone against a real, pure, dominant corner, they haven't gotten the ball to him or he hasn't made his catches or he hasn't had productivity ... I don't know where the inconsistency with he and Dak (Prescott is) but you don't see this with (Pittsburgh Steelers receiver) Antonio Brown. You don't see this with (Atlanta Falcons receiver) Julio (Jones). ... If you're not getting productivity out of Ezekiel (Elliott) like you didn't today, Dez has to come up. He has to win the 1-on-1s and he and Dak have to get on the same page."

--It sure sounded good at the time.

With receiver Terrance Williams coming off an ankle injury and Brice Butler nursing a sore finger, head coach Jason Garrett and the Cowboys made the regrettable decision to go with six receivers and just four cornerbacks on the game-day roster against the Broncos.

The Cowboys had rookie Noah Brown active at receiver along with the usual group of Williams, Butler, Bryant, Beasley and Ryan Switzer.

They went short at cornerback, leaving the healthy Bene Benwikere in street clothes along with Orlando Scandrick who was out with a fractured finger.

The Cowboys began the game with Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown and rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.

It was already a mismatch from the outset against Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Thomas burned Carroll in the first quarter as did Sanders, who also beat Awuzie for an easy touchdown.

"We knew their starters were going to have trouble covering our receivers," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. "Our receivers versus their secondary was going to be an edge for us."

Then the Cowboys lost Awuzie to a hamstring in the first quarter and Carroll to a concussion in the second quarter, leaving only Brown and Lewis. Rookie Xavier Woods had to play nickel corner, covering the slot.

Although Lewis had an interception, it was baptism by fire after missing all of training camp, the preseason and the season opener with a hamstring issue. He participated in only two full practices since minicamp in June.

The Cowboys could have used the experience of Benwikere. It was a regrettable decision. Never go short at cornerback. This was a mismatch of epic proportions.

NOTES: CB Chido Awuzie is day to day with a hamstring injury suffered against the Broncos in the first quarter. ... CB Nolan Carroll suffered a concussion against the Broncos and is day to day as he goes through concussion protocol. ... QB Dak Prescott injured his ankle against the Broncos but seems no less for wear, per Jason Garrett. It will be monitored during the week. ... CB Orlando Scandrick will try to practice this week and play against the Cardinals Monday after missing the Broncos game following surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left hand. ... DE DeMarcus Lawrence had two sacks for the second straight game. He now has four on the season. But also had a crucial penalty on a field goal that turned three points into seven points.

Updated September 18, 2017

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