When Adam Gase was asked this week about the top-ranked Cowboys offense, the Jets coach wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Their Pro Bowl offensive line, probably one of the best running backs in football, explosive wide receiver, good slot wide receiver, Hall of Fame tight end, quarterback’s pretty good,” Gase said before breaking into laughter. “Outside of that …”
Enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln.
The Cowboys (3-2) come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday with two consecutive losses, but an offense unlike any the storied franchise has ever produced. Leading the NFL with 452.8 yards per game, Dallas ranks fourth in the league in passing (312 yards) and sixth in rushing (140.8), with its 2,264 yards the most through five games in Cowboys history.
“I have a lot of respect for what they do, and how they go about doing it,” Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said following Friday’s practice. “They do a good job with the presence of running the football first, and when you do that, that also sets up so many other things for the quarterback.”
That quarterback — Dak Prescott — has never been more dangerous. The fourth-year starter is on pace to shatter his previous career highs, having already thrown for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns, while completing 69.6% of his passes, and averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Prescott, 26, is tied for third in the league with 24 completions of 20 yards or more, and tied for second with six completions of 40 yards or more.
“He’s done a really good job on throwing the deep ball,” Williams said. “He’s done a very good job on stretching the tops of coverage, and those things come up when people maybe overcompensate, or take their eyes off something they shouldn’t be looking at in the run game to be able to up on top on some of the play-action.”
Last year’s midseason trade for Amari Cooper — second in the NFL with 512 receiving yards after recording a career-high 226 in last week’s loss to the Packers — is a significant factor in Prescott’s evolution. So is the threat of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
But playing behind the league’s best offensive line still ranks first.
Prescott has been sacked just six times through five games, but on Sunday the Cowboys could be without six-time All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle) and starting right tackle La’el Collins (knee), who both haven’t practiced all week. Meanwhile, the Jets (0-4) expect to get back Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland, who combined for 12 sacks last season.
“Prepare for both. That’s the best thing we can do,” Leonard Williams said. “Prepare like we’re going to see the starters, but if the starters are not playing, we’ve been watching enough film to be ready for the backups.”
The Jets defense has been the best part of one of the team’s worst starts. Only two teams in the league have bested the 3.4 yards they’ve allowed per rush, but the winner of two of the past three rushing titles poses an uncommon threat.
Elliott, whose holdout kept him from practicing until signing a six-year, $90 million extension days before the season opener, has been eased into taking 17 carries per game, but the 24-year-old has twice run for more than 110 yards this season, and has four touchdowns, while rushing for 4.5 yards per attempt.
“He’s the biggest challenge for the defense,” Leonard Williams said. “That’s the one thing we have to stop.”