Five stars de­serv­ing of more help from team

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Michael Mid­dle­hurst-Schwartz

Bell col­umn 3C; QB hot sheet 5C; Stars need aid

Not even the bright­est NFL stars can go it alone.

For some play­ers and teams, Oc­to­ber can lend it­self to grum­bling about dis­ap­point­ing early re­sults, and soul search­ing can give way to fin­ger point­ing. Giants wide re­ceiver Odell Beck­ham Jr. cre­ated a mael­strom be­fore last week’s loss to the Pan­thers by say­ing he felt he was be­ing “outschemed” by op­po­nents and didn’t know if Eli Man­ning’s play was an is­sue for the of­fense.

Though you likely won’t hear sim­i­lar com­plaints from th­ese other play­ers, here are some stars who de­serve more help from their teams.

Ezekiel El­liott: This ar­range­ment is not for­eign to El­liott, who has been the Cow­boys’ cen­ter­piece since he was drafted in 2016. But with Dak Prescott floun­der­ing and the team shrug­ging its shoul­ders at an ac­knowl­edged lack of a No. 1 re­ceiver, El­liott looks in­creas­ingly iso­lated as an of­fen­sive sav­ior.

There’s only so much that the Cow­boys can do for Prescott — and, by ex­ten­sion, El­liott. Gun­slinger-turned­broad­caster Tony Romo has high­lighted the im­por­tance of putting re­ceivers in mo­tion to scheme them open more reg­u­larly, and more down­field shots could help if the line can pro­vide suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion. But Dal­las must also mon­i­tor El­liott’s work­load, as he had just 54 rush­ing yards on 20 car­ries against the Tex­ans on Sun­day and could tire down the stretch. An­drew Luck: He has el­e­vated his team in years past, but this might be his heav­i­est lift yet, as a rash of in­juries have left an al­ready sus­pect depth chart in dire straits. On pace for a record­break­ing 784 pass­ing at­tempts, Luck has per­formed ad­mirably. He recorded a ca­reer-high 464 pass­ing yards along with four touch­downs in a Week 4 loss to the Tex­ans.

There’s a path to im­prove­ment for In­di­anapo­lis, as the in­jury re­port is dot­ted with starters who could re­turn in the com­ing weeks. Still, coach Frank Re­ich is at some­what of an im­passe. If Luck is to dis­trib­ute the ball quickly so as to avoid hits as he did in the first three weeks, he needs more as­sis­tance from his skill-po­si­tion play­ers.

David John­son: It’s dif­fi­cult for any staff to in­te­grate a star run­ning back when the pass­ing at­tack ranks sec­ondto-last and has un­der­gone a switch to a rookie passer. But new Car­di­nals coach Steve Wilks and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike McCoy’s ini­tial plan for John­son was down­right bizarre even as he re- turned from play­ing just one game last year due to a wrist in­jury. The for­mer all­pro had just 34 car­ries in the first three weeks be­fore log­ging 40 in the last two.

Yet the big­gest mis­take might be in the pass­ing game, as John­son has just 15 catches for 120 yards. For­mer Ari­zona coach Bruce Ari­ans, un­der whom John­son led the NFL with 2,118 all-pur­pose yards in 2016, be­lieves the new regime was mis­us­ing its of­fen­sive cen­ter­piece by too of­ten re­strict­ing John­son to the back­field. Rus­sell Wil­son: Gen­er­at­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of the of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion has be­come com­mon­place for the quar­ter­back, who ac­counted for more than 80% of Seat­tle’s yardage last

year. The equa­tion has shifted this year, how­ever, as the Sea­hawks have passed a league-low 42.9 per­cent of the time over the past three weeks. But this team can only ride its cur­rently hot run game so far.

One area for growth is the play-ac­tion game, which new co­or­di­na­tor Brian Schot­ten­heimer has sel­dom used de­spite Wil­son’s his­tory of suc­cess with it. Play-ac­tion was a big­ger game plan com­po­nent Sun­day against the Rams, and Wil­son re­sponded by throw­ing three touch­downs de­spite just 21 pass at­tempts.

Car­son Wentz: The Ea­gles have be­come in­creas­ingly blunt in hold­ing one an­other ac­count­able. Left tackle Ja­son Peters sought to spread blame for the pro­tec­tion strug­gles, sug­gest­ing that Wentz is hold­ing onto the ball longer as he tries to re­cap­ture his rhythm af­ter last sea­son’s knee in­jury. Never one to rat­tle cages, Wentz said that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion was “fair.”

But that assess­ment might not be en­tirely on point. Wentz has al­ready taken

17 sacks de­spite get­ting rid of the ball in

2.76 sec­onds on av­er­age this year, ac­cord­ing to The Ath­letic, which is al­most the same as last year’s mark of 2.72. The re­ceiv­ing corps has also been a dis­ap­point­ment, ty­ing for the league lead in drops with 11.

The most sig­nif­i­cant dilemma might be how to equip Wentz with a proper rush­ing at­tack af­ter Jay Ajayi was placed on in­jured re­serve. Per­haps Howie Rose­man will make an­other ag­gres­sive move and pur­sue Le’Veon Bell or LeSean McCoy, but giv­ing Corey Cle­ment a larger role seems the more likely op­tion. And while get­ting Al­shon Jef­fery fully in­te­grated af­ter he missed the first three games should el­e­vate the team on third downs (24th in con­ver­sion rate) and in the red zone, Peters and the rest of the line will have to step up to give Wentz more time.

AN­DREW LUCK BY JAMES LANG/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

TROY TAORMINA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Cow­boys’ Ezekiel El­liott is the NFL’s lead­ing rusher through Week 5 with 480 yards.

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