After the Dallas Cowboys’ overtime win over the Philadelphia Eagles, FOX Sports’ noted Cowboys apologist Skip Bayless said he had a moment of worry that Jason Witten would not catch the game-winning touchdown from Dak Prescott. The reason? Witten has been Romo’s lifeline for the better part of a decade.
For Bayless, it would be the ultimate betrayal to help Romo’s predecessor succeed when Romo is supposedly weeks away from suiting up.
He noted how crazy that sounds, but he had to have been in absolute fits to see how Prescott was using Witten in Sunday’s 35-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. Not only did Witten have his first 100-yard game since 2013 (134 yards and one touchdown on eight receptions), but Scott Linehan also utilized him in a way not always directly shown on the stat sheet.
On the Cowboys first drive, marching down the field with ease, slot receiver Cole Beasley used a stutter step off the line to force Witten into man coverage with Jamie Collins. With a quick turn to the corner, Witten was in for an easy 26-yard touchdown.
Fast-forward to the third quarter. Holding a 28-10 lead, the Cowboys ran a similar play but reversed it to the left side with Terrance Williams as the secondary distraction. While not a designed run, Witten’s viability on an island baited the defense to allow Prescott to run for a 13-yard gain at mid-field.
That play was soon followed by a 27-yard pass to Witten to get inside the red zone. This only makes the decision to keep Prescott under center (which by the way, Travis Frederick firmly planted himself as the league’s best center once again) an even easier call. Prescott’s has started using Witten just like vintage Romo and gives the added bonus of this dual-threat ability.
Following a few runs by Ezekiel Elliott who finished the game with 92 yards and two scores on 18 carries, Prescott lined up a touchdown to backup tight end Gavin Escobar. It was Escobar’s first catch of the year.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like a special play. But it looked eerily familiar to Witten’s game-winner last week. While the play design was different, it ended with broken coverage that put Escobar completely isolated in the left-side of the end zone like Witten was.
The reason last week was caused by Prescott rolling out to extend the play, breaking coverage in the process. This week it was caused by the Browns’ tunnel vision on Witten. He lined up on the opposite end of Escobar, drawing three players from their zone instead of rolling out to the flat to handle Escobar.
Witten’s effect didn’t solely come in the passing game, either. He also had the edge setting block for Elliott’s first touchdown of the day.
While Witten has had greater games in the past with Romo under center, it’s been quite some time since he’s been this efficient. Albeit, against a winless Browns team, but an important progression for Prescott nonetheless. Even if Witten’s production drops the next couple of weeks, he’ll be a major factor in defenses’ game planning once again.