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  • The wideout who came over in a trade from Oakland has had so-so stats so far, but his impact goes beyond his own numbers, with both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott benefiting. So far it’s paying off where it matters most: in the win column.
By Jonathan Jones
November 21, 2018

ATLANTA — Through three games with the Cowboys, No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper has 14 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown. Multiply his per-game averages by 16 and he’d have a season with 74 catches, 901 yards and five scores. Then consider he’s coming off his least-productive game of the season against the Falcons, catching just three passes for 36 yards.

Now realize that none of that matters. Sure, the Cowboys would love it if Cooper had the best three-game stretch of a mid-season trade acquisition in NFL history. But the stats don’t matter. For both the short and long term, Dallas getting Cooper was all about finally getting back to their 2016 ways of running the ball.

Cooper’s addition has forced defenses, for the first time this season, to show respect to the Cowboys’ passing game. Indeed, it has opened things up for quarterback Dak Prescott from Week 9 to 11, but it’s making defenses unload the box.

In turn, Ezekiel Elliott gets to eat again.

“You’re getting a guy or half a guy out of the box, and it’s just one less guy to worry about,” Elliott said Sunday after the Cowboys’ 22-19 win against the Falcons. “It seems like he was kind of the missing piece, because when he got here the offense started rolling.”

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Before Cooper, Dallas was 3-4, coming off a road loss to Washington and without a quality win to its name. Prescott was completing just 62.1% of his passes and averaging 202.4 passing yards per game. With Cooper, the Cowboys have won two of three. Prescott is completing nearly 70% of his passes while averaging more than 240 passing yards per game.

But it’s Elliott who has reaped the greatest benefits here. Before Week 9, the third-year back was averaging 88.4 yards per game and failed to generate 100 yards of total offense in four of his seven games.

In the three games since Week 9, Elliott is averaging 111.3 rushing yards per game, has more than doubled his receiving yards per game and not only has eclipsed 100 yards of offense in all three games but gone over the 200-yard mark twice.

“They’ve got to lean the safety over to [Cooper]. I really think that’s helping Zeke a ton, just keeping those safeties out of there,” veteran receiver Cole Beasley said. “They’ve got to account for Amari over there. If he’s got one-on-one, he’s going to win those matchups. That’s helping him for sure and helping us spread the field.”

Whether the Cowboys traded too much to get Cooper is now irrelevant. You could reasonably argue that Cooper was worth only a second-rounder, but so what? Consider this: The Cowboys could have drafted a wideout in the first round in April and instead got stud linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who’s had the biggest rookie impact on a Dallas defense since DeMarcus Ware. In exchange for next year’s draft pick, they got a 24-year-old Cooper. Parse it however you want, but that’s as good a deal as any.

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There was another bye-week switchup that Elliott and others are crediting, though. During that Week 8 bye, coach Jason Garrett fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander and promoted Marc Colombo.

Two years ago I spoke with Garrett about Elliott’s march toward his first-team All-Pro selection. Garrett said Dallas wanted to “build and construct this time in a very similar fashion” to the Super Bowl teams of the ’90s that had so heavily relied upon the offensive line. That helped Elliot to the rushing title two years ago, and he’s second to Todd Gurley this season through Week 11.

“I just felt like we got back to our old self. We got back to our old calls, our old plays,” Elliott said. “Those offensive linemen, they’ve been good for the past five or six years. I think we got away from ourselves at the beginning of this year, and we’ve done a good job these past couple weeks just getting back to what we’re comfortable doing and what we do best.”

There’s a confidence building in these Cowboys. Jerry Jones talked Sunday about how pleased he was at the way Dallas has won the past two games. Against both the Eagles and the Falcons, the Cowboys were tied late and outscored the opponent in the fourth quarter to win.

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Now they face division-rival Washington on Thanksgiving, with control of the NFC East on the line. It couldn’t come at a better time for the Cowboys.

“I think we’re finally hitting a rhythm. I think we’re finally hitting our stride on offense and defense,” Elliott said. “And we can’t lose this grit. We can’t lose the way we’re going out there and working every day. We can’t lose the way we’re going out there and competing on Sundays. We’ve got to build on that and get even better so we can hopefully get into the playoffs.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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