The Dallas Cowboys tried to win without Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, and the results were not pretty for America’s Team.
In the team’s first game without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ offense struggled. Obviously, the loss of Tyron Smith at left tackle was a huge reason for Dallas’ problems in the passing game, but that’s not what killed the team’s offense on Sunday. Despite Chaz Green’s awful day, it wasn’t entirely his fault on the left side. The Cowboys’ running game allowed Green to fail.
By just looking at the raw stats, their rushing attack doesn’t look like it struggled too mightily without their star tailback. On Sunday, Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and Rod Smith rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries (4.33 yards per carry). For most teams, that’s not a bad day on the ground. But for the Cowboys, those numbers are nowhere near up to the standard and can be kind of deceiving. Let’s dig into them some, shall we?
First and foremost, 15 carries from the team’s running backs is simply not enough. Before his suspension, Elliott was averaging nearly 24 carries a game and just once as he held under 21 carries all season (just nine in the loss to Denver). Dallas feeds Elliott, but they can do so because he can keep drives alive.
Consider how the Cowboys accumulated their yards on the ground on Sunday.The running backs had 10 carries (and one play where a holding penalty was called) on first down on Sunday. Here is the breakdown of those carries:
1st and 10 at DAL 25
(15:00 – 1st) A.Morris right guard to DAL 27 for 2 yards
1st and 10 at DAL 35
(13:16 – 1st) A.Morris right tackle to DAL 36 for 1 yard
1st and 10 at DAL 49
(11:58 – 1st) A.Morris left guard to DAL 47 for -2 yards
1st and 10 at ATL 38
(10:41 – 1st) (Shotgun) A.Morris right guard to ATL 37 for 1 yard
1st and 10 at DAL 48
(6:49 – 2nd) R.Smith left end to ATL 47 for 5 yards. PENALTY on DAL-J.Cooper, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at DAL 48 – No Play.
1st and 10 at DAL 30
(8:12 – 3rd) A.Morris right tackle to DAL 44 for 14 yards
1st and 10 at DAL 44
(7:35 – 3rd) A.Morris right end pushed ob at ATL 36 for 20 yards
1st and 10 at ATL 36
(7:06 – 3rd) A.Morris left guard to ATL 34 for 2 yards
1st and 10 at ATL 23
(5:06 – 3rd) A.Morris right end pushed ob at ATL 12 for 11 yards
1st and 10 at DAL 25
(13:44 – 4th) (Shotgun) D.McFadden right end to DAL 23 for -2 yards
1st and 10 at DAL 26
(0:56 – 4th) (Shotgun) R.Smith left guard to DAL 34 for 8 yards
While there were three chunk runs by Morris in the third quarter (14, 20, and 11 yards, respectively), Dallas struggled to run the ball on first down. On their first five first down runs, the Cowboys gained two or fewer yards on every single carry.
Compare that to Elliott in 2017, who has averaged 4.25 yards per carry on first down this season, according to Pro Football Reference. On seven of the Cowboys’ 11 drives on Sunday, they were behind the chains due to their running game. That’s a recipe for disaster when you are trying to protect your quarterback because of a backup left tackle.