In loss to Vikings, Cowboys have a couple of questionable red zone calls

Play-calling is complex in the NFL. Teams put countless hours into game plans. Almost each play call has layers of strategy that the public wouldn’t know about.

But sometimes, it’s best to keep it simple.

For some reason, the Dallas Cowboys went away from Dak Prescott’s hot hand once he got them inside the red zone, trailing the Minnesota Vikings 28-24 in the final minutes Sunday. Prescott hit an 8-yard pass on first down to the Vikings’ 11-yard line. He had been remarkable on the entire drive.

Then Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore made two calls they’d like to have back in the 28-24 loss.

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Dallas gave Ezekiel Elliott two straight carries after having second-and-2. There’s nothing wrong with Elliott, but it looked bad when Elliott was stuffed for no gain on second down and then lost 3 yards on third down. Prescott was in a tougher spot on fourth-and-5.

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks knocked down the fourth-down pass to Elliott. The Cowboys got the ball back with a few seconds left but they didn’t get a prayer answered. It’s a tough loss, and the Cowboys will wonder if it would have been better to keep riding Prescott all the way to the end.

Vikings, Cowboys have great battle

The Vikings came out hot. A pair of Kyle Rudolph 1-yard touchdowns put Minnesota ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. Kirk Cousins was composed. Dalvin Cook was hitting big plays with ease. It didn’t matter than the Vikings didn’t have injured Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen. The offense was clicking without him.

The Cowboys got back in the game in the second quarter. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb caught touchdown passes from Dak Prescott. After that, the game was a back-and-forth thriller between two playoff-level teams.

The Cowboys took a lead in the third quarter. The Vikings took it back on a two-yard touchdown by Cook on a fourth down.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the teams met each other again in January.

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Kirk Cousins through his career
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 22: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings takes a snap during the pregame warm ups against the Oakland Raiders at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Oakland Raiders 34-14. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 08: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Falcons 28-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 29: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 29: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the football in game action during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on September 29, 2019 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 29: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks on after a play in game action during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on September 29, 2019 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 23: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins warms up before a game against the New York Giants at FedExField on November 23, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 12: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans talks to coaches on the sideline against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Spartan Stadium on September 12, 2009 in East Lansing, Michigan. The Chippewas defeated the Spartans 29-27. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 05: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans warms up prior to the start of the game against the Montana State Bobcats on September 5, 2009 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING,MI - CIRCA 2011: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans poses for a portrait in 2011 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Michigan State Spartans/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
12 JAN 2012: Education Session entitled Students First: Giving Student-Athletes the College Experience They Deserve held at the JW Marriott and Indianapolis Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.Pictured: Kirk Cousins
ASHBURN, VA - MAY 06: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins throws a pass during the Washington Redskins rookie minicamp on May 6, 2012 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
ASHBURN, VA - MAY 06: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins speaks to members of the media after a practice during the Washington Redskins rookie minicamp on May 6, 2012 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Quarterback Kirk Cousins of Michigan State looks on during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 07: Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III #10 (L) and Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins take the field before playing the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField on October 7, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Dec 15, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (12) throws a pass in the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs off the filed after the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 41-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks for a receiver against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates after a touchdown by Redskins running back Matt Jones (31) against the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball against the Green Bay Packers during the first half in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) on the sidelines against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Redskins 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) joins his teammates and members of the United States Armed Forces in holding a giant american flag during the national anthem prior to the Redskins' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates with fans after the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) stands in the pocket in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
September 17, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws as offensive tackle Trent Williams (71) blocks Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) locks arms with teammates during the national anthem before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates after a touchdown in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Cowboys come up short in the end

The Cowboys had a shot to pull out a huge win at the end. Dallas started at its own 6-yard line with 4:34 left. Prescott moved the Cowboys downfield. He calmly guided the Cowboys into the red zone. There wasn’t one huge play, but Prescott was hitting receivers with precision. He had done that all game against a tough Vikings defense.

And with Prescott burning white hot, the Cowboys went away from him. Elliott has been very reliable and is one of the NFL’s best backs. Sometimes plays get stopped by a good defense. That’s certainly what happened on those second- and third-down calls in the red zone.

Prescott had a big game, with 397 yards. He was in sync with Cooper all night. The Cowboys should have just kept relying on him when it counted most.

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