SACKS PILE UP AS COWBOYS ARE ROUTED BY FALCONS
With Elliott suspended and lineman Smith out, Cowboys offense held to 233 total yards.
The Dallas Cowboys’ likelihood of success against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was already minimal at best.
The Cowboys received a setback in a New York federal court on Thursday when star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy was officially reinstated.
The irreparable harm of Elliott’s absence was noted, felt and real in a 27-7 loss.
But add in the injury losses to tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee and the Cowboys simply had no chance in what arguably was their worst performance of the season while coming off their best in a 28-17 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
The running game without Elliott was inept save some scrambles by quarterback Dak Prescott.
But as much as Elliott is the foundation to their run-oriented philosophy, the loss of Smith, the perennial Pro Bowler and arguably the best left tackle NFL who was ruled out Saturday with groin injury, proved to be fatal to the entire offense.
Backup Chaz Green started in Smith’s place and offered little resistance in what was easily the worst performance by a Cowboys offensive lineman in years. He allowed six sacks to Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn and had a holding penalty. Clayborn was one sack shy of tying the NFL record for sacks in a game held by Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
“We couldn’t slow them down,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They put heat on the quarterback all day long.”
The Cowboys allowed eight sacks, the most since Troy Aikman, who happened to be calling the game for Fox, was dropped for 11 sacks by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1991.
Prescott rarely saw a clean pocket and got nothing done down the field. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 176 yards.
“Overall, we didn’t protect well enough,” Garrett said.
Elliott and Green’s importance on offense is only offset by Lee’s importance to the defense.
The Cowboys got an early interception off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Cornerback Anthony Brown tipped a pass intended for Julio Jones that rookie safety Xavier Woods.
It led to an 11-yard touchdown run by Prescott and a 7-0 lead.
But Lee reaggravated a hamstring injury late in the first quarter. It’s the same hamstring that kept him out of two games early in the season.
“When he’s out, there’s a void,” Garrett said of Lee.
The Falcons scored 27 unanswered points.
Ryan completed 22 of 29 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The Falcons rushed for 132 yards as a team.
It’s a huge loss for the Cowboys (5-4), who saw their three-game winning streak come to end and fell further behind the Eagles (8-1) in the NFC East standings.
While the Cowboys have two games left against the Eagles, the division race is largely over. What matters now is staying in wildcard contention until Elliott returns.
Falling to the Falcons (5-4) means they lost an important head-to-head tiebreaker against a team they might be battling for a playoff spot.
The overall performance certainly does little for the team’s confidence heading into next Sunday’s showdown against the Eagles at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys talked all week about feeling confident about their chances of winning without Elliott.
How about without Elliott, Lee and Smith?
And that’s not even including kicker Dan Bailey, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, who remains sidelined with a groin injury.
It should be noted that his replacement, Mike Nugent, missed a kick in the third quarter that would have made the score 17-10.
Final judgment: The Cowboys have little likelihood of success without Elliott and company.
“We didn’t handle the adversity of the day very well,” Garrett said.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott takes a moment to gather himself after one of the eight sacks he endured in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta. “We couldn’t slow them down,” coach Jason Garrett said.
Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn sacked Dak Prescott six times, one short of the NFL’s single-game record.