Stars miss­ing, Cow­boys need a very fast fix

With 8-1 Ea­gles up next, de­fend­ing NFC East champs find go­ing tough.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon

Ezekiel El­liott will miss FRISCO — 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 Philadel- phia 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 foot- ball 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 fran- chise-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, 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 p os­sess i on 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.

MICHAEL AINSWORTH / AP 2016

Left tackle Ty­ron Smith (above) has an in­jured back and groin. His re­place­ment, Chaz Green, gave up five of Adrian Clay­born’s six sacks for At­lanta.

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