Analyzed Sports | S.K. Patrick
No Zeke No Wins: The Downfall of the Cowboys Offense
This time Dallas we Have a problem! The Dallas Cowboys‘ offense suddenly looks like it did in 2015 when Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore started 12 of the 16 games, with Tony Romo twice suffering a broken left collarbone. The most obvious cause for their recent offensive slump is the loss of one of the top running backs in Ezekiel Elliott. The seemingly never-ending legal battle over Zeke’s six-game suspension by commissioner Roger Goodell, two weeks ago the Cowboys’ All-Pro running back finally started sitting out games to serve his punishment. If he served at the beginning of the season, he would be back from the playoff stretch.
Zeke exited his last game as one of the top rushers in the league, with 783 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He racked up 80 or more rushing yards in every game but one. While Alfred Morris was still able to get the Cowboys 100 yards on Sunday night against the Eagles, he’s less of a playmaker than the dynamic that is in Elliott, especially regarding burst and big-play ability.
Elliott’s absence has also made life easier for defenses; who are more keen to attack quarterback Dak Prescott. The threat of play-action is now limited. Zeke isn’t sneaking behind the offensive line to take a screen pass four. Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn reeked havoc dropping Prescott with six sacks in a single game. The ferocious front seven of the Eagles put heat on Prescott all night Sunday, knocking him down four times and forcing him into questionable throws leading to three interceptions on the night.
It’s clear that Elliott’s absence is being felt, but he’s not the only key player missing from the Cowboys offensive attack. Once one of the most dominant units in the game, the Dallas offensive line has changed a lot from last year’s league-leading rushing attack. With the departure of Ronald Leary and Doug Free in the offseason, significant adjustments had to made. Then a groin injury has kept All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith out of the lineup the past two weeks. Dak Prescott has been mainly left to fend for himself.
The road does not get easier moving forward. A game against a talented Chargers team in a short week is this Thursday on Thanksgiving before back-to-back matchups against division foes. While The Chargers do have skilled pass rushers; the defense doesn’t have the same game-altering potential as the Eagles do. The year isn’t over yet for the Cowboys, but they’ll need a winning streak starting Turkey Day to stay involved in the hunt for the playoffs as the season enters the home stretch. Elliott is due to make his return in Week 16 against the Seahawks, but if the Cowboys can’t figure out a way to win without him, he might be coming back to a season that’s already lost.