More cracks show up

Pass­ing game has got­ten at­ten­tion; now run­ning game needs help

The Dallas Morning News - - Sports Day - DAVID MOORE dmoore@dal­las­ COW­BOYS (3-5) AT EA­GLES (4-4) | 7:20 p.m. Sun­day (Ch. 5)

FRISCO — While ev­ery­one has been wring­ing their hands and lament­ing the state of the pass­ing game, a trou­bling devel­op­ment has gone un­der the radar. The run game has slipped to the point where it now needs fix­ing.

This isn’t un­com­mon. When a team puts so much at­ten­tion and fo­cus into an area that’s bro­ken, it of­ten causes ero­sion some­where else.

What’s sur­pris­ing here is that Ezekiel El­liott and the run game de­fine the Cow­boys’ of­fen­sive iden­tity. This group no longer im­poses its will on the ground, which helps ex­plain the 3-5 record it car­ries into Sun­day night’s matchup with Philadel­phia.

“It’s been in­con­sis­tent,’’ El­liott con­ceded. “I think we made some good strides last week early in the game, but it’s still not where it needs to be. Still not at the level that it should be.

“We’ve got to get this run game go­ing, point blank, pe­riod.’’

Op­pos­ing de­fenses held El­liott to fewer than 80 yards on the ground only twice in his first two years in the league.

That’s al­ready hap­pened five times this sea­son. El­liott has been held to 61 yards or fewer in two straight and three of the last four games.

The loss of cen­ter Travis Fred­er­ick be­fore the sea­son be­gan and an er­ratic per­for­mance across the of­fen­sive line is partly to blame. So is an in­ef­fec­tive pass­ing game that only now be­gins to show signs of hope.

“I think we’re in a re­set mode there with our run game,’’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Scott Line­han said. “We want to be able to get our pass­ing game, which I think has trended good the last cou­ple of games, in a po­si­tion where we can cre­ate big plays and still have the run game that we can lean on through­out the game.’’

El­liott rushed for 31 yards and caught two passes for 44 yards in the first quar­ter of the team’s loss to Ten­nessee on Mon­day night. He thought he was headed for a big game.

He man­aged just 37 yards from scrim­mage the re­main­der of the evening in the Cow­boys’ 28-14 loss.

“Def­i­nitely frus­trat­ing,’’ El­liott said. “It just gets back to the con­ver­sa­tions we had ear­lier this sea­son. If you’re down two touch­downs, there’s no run­ning the ball. If you’re down two touch­downs in the fourth quar­ter, you’ve got to go with the pass­ing game, score quick.

“I think it’s a ca­su­alty of the sit­u­a­tion.’’

There’s va­lid­ity to that point. Deficits have taken the ball out of El­liott’s hands at key mo­ments this sea­son. But that’s not the only ex­pla­na­tion.

The score was tied en­ter­ing the sec­ond half of the Cow­boys loss to Wash­ing­ton. The same goes for the game against the Ti­tans. What did El­liott do in the sec­ond half of those two games?

He had a to­tal of 10 car­ries for 37 yards.

Here’s an­other num­ber to keep in mind: The Cow­boys were close to au­to­matic the last two sea­sons when hand­ing the ball to El­liott on third-and-1.

This sea­son he’s con­verted eight of 12 at­tempts. There are 33 play­ers in the league who have con­verted at a higher per­cent­age.

“Some­times it will be harder based on what the de­fense is try­ing to do, what they’re try­ing to take away,’’ head coach Ja­son Gar­rett said. “Some­times they load up the box and say, ‘We ain’t let­ting you run.’ So you have to beat them other ways.

“You have to be able to at­tack through the pass­ing game and run them out of those fronts, run them out of those de­fenses.’’

It won’t be easy Sun­day night. Philadel­phia has the league’s No. 2 run de­fense, al­low­ing an aver­age of 83.8 yards on the ground.

“They have great per­son­nel on that front, a lot of great play­ers,’’ El­liott said. “It’s im­por­tant for us to come out there and be crisp, be ready to go out there and start fast.’’

And get back to im­pos­ing their will on the ground.

“We’ve got to get it go­ing,’’ El­liott said. “We’ve got to fig­ure out how we’re go­ing to do that.’’

Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with The Musers at 9:35 a.m. ev­ery Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day and The Hardline at 4:15 p.m. ev­ery Tues­day and Fri­day dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Sha­ban Athu­man/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott at­tempts to dive into the end zone but is stopped by Ti­tans linebacker Rashaan Evans. The Cow­boys run­ning game has also been com­ing up short.

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