Football

Cowboys can’t forget who they are. Zeke and run game make that offense go

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) finds running room as New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) defends during a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) finds running room as New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) defends during a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

The Cowboys started the season with three easy wins, running up 35 points on the New York Giants, 31 on Washington and 31 more on Miami.

Kellen Moore stepped in as offensive coordinator and was doing a fantastic job using alignment and motion to give quarterback Dak Prescott the answers to the test before the snap, to give him some easy, simple throws.

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David Carr

Prescott hit close to 75% of his passes in those three games, nine for touchdowns, and with Ezekiel Elliott on the field it was almost too easy taking advantage of the one-on-ones Dallas was getting outside.

But if you’re not careful, you’re going to let that dictate how you run offense. That’s the trap the Cowboys fell into playing the Saints and the Packers, much better teams with much better defenses than the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins.

When Elliott is out there, defenses are going to give the Cowboys a lot of man coverage, a lot of single high safety with an extra defender in the box.

Dallas is going to get its one-on-ones. But the Cowboys still have to get their best player the football — and against Green Bay in particular they didn’t.

The Cowboys have had a lot of success when Elliott gets 25 touches in a game; he had 14 in that loss.

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) greet each other before a NFL football game against the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) Ron Jenkins AP

The challenge for Moore and the Cowboys is making sure they don’t lose sight of their best player even with all of the one-on-ones outside, to make sure they still find ways to create runs into what might not be the best looks.

There may be an extra guy in the box, but the Cowboys can still create runs.

We saw that last year with the Patriots when they started to run the football out of the I-formation, really pounding it.

And, what did the Colts just do to the Chiefs? They controlled the clock. They ran the football effectively, played good defense and got a win at Arrowhead.

What did the Raiders just do to the Bears? They ran the ball right at them and basically took that great defense out of the game.

Good football teams are able to do that.

If the Cowboys want to be there at the end, they can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still a run-first, play-good-defense league.

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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) passes downfield during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon AP

I just don’t see the Cowboys scoring with Kansas City or teams like the Saints when they get Drew Brees back. The Packers were blowing out Dallas 31-10 before they went into a softer defense and played a little prevent — we all know that leads to some inflated numbers on the offensive side of the ball.

The Cowboys have to remember that Elliot is their best player. They still have to get him involved. They still have to design runs for him, knowing that they’re going to have one-on-ones out there whenever they want them.

They can’t get caught up thinking, “We can throw the ball all over the place.”

Eilliot makes Cowboys better

The Cowboys have to be careful with that because I don’t think Prescott is consistent enough with his accuracy and his reads yet. As far as progressions go, if it’s not a clean read on the first guy he struggles, and if a defense can get pressure on him or they give him a lot different looks he struggles.

It’s nice if the quarterback throws for more than 400 yards and the No. 1 receiver goes for 200, but against good teams Dallas is not going to win consistently like that.

When the Cowboys played the Saints, they struggled there, too. The Saints lined up with a guy in man-to-man coverage and took away Amari Cooper.

Marshon Lattimore basically covered Cooper and he had five catches for 48 yards, was really a non-factor. When the Cowboys face teams that can do that with Cooper, they have to be able to design runs for Elliot and get that run game going.

The Cowboys’ strength with Elliott and Prescott is going to be running the ball first as a duo and then everything is a by-product off that. They can’t let teams line up with an extra guy in the box and bait them into thinking that they have to throw the ball every down because they’re going to end up in games like the one with the Packers.

Get there, and they just can’t keep up.

Defense wins championships, and fantasy leagues

Carr was talked into joining a fantasy football league a few years ago by his brother, Darren. He won it. His strategy - picking a defense off the waiver wire each week that had a chance to score points based on their match up.

The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger then Mason Rudolph and this week go up against the Chargers in Los Angeles, and even though the win-loss record isn’t there they still are capable of getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.

With Rudolph likely out, the Steelers are looking at stating Devlin Hodges, a guy who wasn’t even on the roster at the start of the season.

The Chargers defense probably wasn’t taken in a lot of leagues. and they are going to be at home on Sunday night and facing a third-team quarterback. For a Steelers team that is struggling at 1-4 and trying to pull together their season, this just is not a good time to be facing the Chargers and their pass rush.

David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.

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