Ab­sences forc­ing Cow­boys to ad­just

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NFL/MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL -

FRISCO, Texas — Ezekiel El­liott will miss at least the next three games de­pend­ing on the next le­gal round in the Dal­las Cow­boys run­ning back’s fight over his six-game suspension for al­leged do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

It’s likely the same for kicker Dan Bailey be­cause of a groin in­jury, and could be an­other game or two for Pro Bowl left tackle Ty­ron Smith (groin, back) and 2016 All-Pro line­backer Sean Lee af­ter he tweaked a ham­string in the 27-7 loss at At­lanta on Sun­day.

The ab­sence of four of the most im­por­tant Cow­boys showed up in var­i­ous ways against the Fal­cons, and raises ques­tions about the de­fend­ing NFC East cham­pi­ons stay­ing in con­tention with di­vi­sion-lead­ing Philadel­phia vis­it­ing Sun­day night.

“When you have re­ally good play­ers, some of the best in the league and they’re not out there, cer­tainly that makes a dif­fer­ence,” tight end Ja­son Wit­ten said. “We be­lieve in our sys­tem of foot­ball of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively. It’s harder when your key play­ers aren’t out there.”

The most glar­ing ab­sence was Smith: Re­place­ment Chaz Green gave up five of Adrian Clay­born’s fran­chise-record six sacks for At­lanta. Green was benched for By­ron Bell, who gave up the last one. The Cow­boys, who al­lowed eight sacks of Dak Prescott, had never given up more than four to one player in a game.

Dal­las (5-4) fig­ures at least to have a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween those two in prac­tice this week be­fore fac­ing the Ea­gles (8-1), who can vir­tu­ally wrap up the di­vi­sion ti­tle with a win.

“I’m not go­ing to lose con­fi­dence in any of them from one game,” Prescott said. “As I said, I’m not go­ing to put ev­ery­thing on them. I’m go­ing to look back at the film and see what we could’ve done bet­ter as a unit.”

Clay­born and his fel­low de­fen­sive line­men might have had more fo­cus on Prescott be­cause they didn’t have to worry as much about the Dal­las run­ning game with­out El­liott. And be­sides that, El­liott is con­sid­ered a strong pass-blocker.

Al­fred Mor­ris didn’t show much be­yond a 20-yard run, and Dal­las’ 1,000-yard rusher from 2015, Dar­ren McFad­den (Pu­laski Academy, Arkansas Ra­zor­backs), didn’t get a chance to show any­thing in the first game he was ac­tive this sea­son. McFad­den was dropped for a 2-yard loss on his only carry.

The Cow­boys will have to think about whether to mix and match their ap­proach in the back­field as well. El­liott has an­other court hear­ing Dec. 1, with a chance for a rul­ing be­fore what is sup­posed to be the fifth game of his suspension Dec. 10 at the New York Giants.

“We didn’t get it done to­day, and I feel like it’s my fault,” said Mor­ris, who had 53 yards on 11 car­ries. “That’s OK. We will get back to the draw­ing board and learn from this game. Next week we will come out swing­ing a lit­tle sooner.”

Lee left with his in­jury late in the first quar­ter, and the Cow­boys gave up touch­downs on three straight drives not count­ing a brief At­lanta pos­ses­sion that ended at half­time. The Fal­cons faced just four third downs on those drives, con­vert­ing all of them. The Cow­boys had sim­i­lar prob­lems when Lee missed two games with a ham­string in­jury ear­lier in the sea­son, los­ing both at home de­spite scor­ing at least 30 points each time.

“Sean is our guy, our cap­tain,” de­fen­sive end Ty­rone Craw­ford said. “It’s def­i­nitely no­tice­able when he is not out there, and hope­fully he can get right and be with us shortly.”

Mike Nu­gent, Bailey’s re­place­ment, missed a 38-yarder that would have pulled the Cow­boys within 17-10 in the third quar­ter. The Fal­cons es­sen­tially put away the game on the next drive.

Bailey, who hasn’t missed from in­side 40 yards since 2014, is three weeks into what ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of per­son­nel Stephen Jones has de­scribed as an eight-week re­cov­ery from a right groin in­jury. In other words, it’s prob­a­bly an­other month for the Cow­boys with­out their best run­ner and one of the most ac­cu­rate kick­ers in NFL his­tory.

“We don’t want it to get eas­ier,” Prescott said. “We’re ex­cited for what’s com­ing ahead of us. We’re go­ing to take each game separately, take each day within that week in prepa­ra­tion, one day at a time, and we’ll get bet­ter.”

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