Count­ing on Zeke and his line­men won’t cut it any­more

The Dallas Morning News - - Sports Day - KEVIN SHERRINGTON ksh­er­ring­[email protected]­las­

Jerry Jones won’t take Ter­rell Owens’ ad­vice to fire Ja­son Gar­rett, but, just the same, the owner could do him­self a fa­vor and let emo­tions die down be­fore giv­ing his head coach that re­ported ex­ten­sion. Wait un­til the mob takes its torches and goes home, any­way.

Gar­rett didn’t do him­self any fa­vors in a 30-22 play­off exit against the Rams. His staff was out­coached on both sides of the ball. Yet the Cow­boys came close enough that Jerry will not only keep his head coach, he’ll prac­ti­cally write him into the will.

Take a mo­ment to blink or scream or weep softly, what­ever works. Bet­ter? Good, let’s pro­ceed.

Even if it looks like Gar­rett is go­ing to out­last yours truly, the least he can do is ac­cept this lowly coun­sel:

Quit coach­ing like it’s 2016.

Sure, that of­fen­sive ap­proach helped a fourthround rookie quar­ter­back put to­gether a his­toric sea­son. Didn’t put too much on his back. Let one of the best of­fen­sive lines in foot­ball maul op­po­nents up front, then watch Zeke El­liott jus­tify the fourth pick of the draft.

Since those hal­cyon days, how­ever, it’s be­come ap­par­ent that the World’s Great­est Of­fen­sive Line no longer earns the ti­tle. Not even close. Ty­ron Smith is still very good, but he’s not a dom­i­nant left tackle any­more. Even if Travis Fred­er­ick re­turns next sea­son from Guil­lain-barre syn­drome, the Cow­boys can’t as­sume he’ll be the same. At some point they’ll also have to ask them­selves if La’el Collins is re­ally a right tackle or if he’s bet­ter back at guard.

Be­sides the slide of the line, there’s a fac­tor com­pletely out of the Cow­boys’ con­trol: Op­po­nents ap­par­ently have film, too.

And when you line up 11 play­ers like no one’s wait­ing on the next el­e­va­tor, it’s not hard to guess your in­ten­tions.

On a fourth-and-1 at the Rams’ 35 at the start of the fourth quar­ter, down by eight points, the Cow­boys did it again.

Joe Looney snaps the ball. Dak hands off.

Zeke gets swal­lowed. Frankly, it’s like sit­ting around the royal ceme­tery 4,500 years ago, watch­ing the Me­sopotami­ans en­joy a lit­tle hu­man sac­ri­fice.

Didn’t help that Ndamukong Suh played Satur­day like it was 2009, when he ter­ror­ized Texas in the Big 12 cham­pi­onship game. His per­for­mance then ce­mented my Heis­man vote. Suh hadn’t played with such fe­roc­ity in a long time, not that Looney would prob­a­bly be­lieve it.

Maybe the Cow­boys weren’t ex­pect­ing Suh to be so great again. Maybe they looked at the 5.1 yards per carry the Rams had been giv­ing up and fig­ured it’d be easy.

Maybe Wade Phillips got his re­venge against the Cow­boys af­ter all.

The Cow­boys could have made it tougher on Wade. For starters, they could have done what worked so well against Seat­tle the week be­fore.

On third-and-14 from the Sea­hawks’ 17 with 2:33 left in the game and the out­come in doubt, Dak ran for 16 yards, som­er­sault­ing to the 1. He scored on the next play to put the game out of reach.

Dak’s wild gal­lop wasn’t out of des­per­a­tion; it was a de­lib­er­ate call. He ran only six times, gain­ing 29 yards. But that 16-yard burst made all the dif­fer­ence.

On a night when they were only 1 of 10 on third­down con­ver­sions and Zeke rushed for just 47 yards on 20 car­ries, the Cow­boys could have used a half dozen runs from Dak to crack the Rams’ rock-solid de­fen­sive front. But it ap­par­ently didn’t oc­cur to any­one on the Cow­boys’ side­line or up­stairs to try more than twice.

Speak­ing of Dak, he may not get an ex­ten­sion this off­sea­son like his head coach will, but it’ll hap­pen. No prob­lem with that here. Dak has flaws in his me­chan­ics that im­pede his ac­cu­racy, but he’s good enough. The Cow­boys sim­ply must hone his skills and give him a com­plete tool kit.

He’s got the re­ceivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley, if the last comes back. Zeke is as good as it gets. And if not what it once was, the line re­mains in the top third of the league.

What Dak needs is an up­grade in coach­ing. Do some­thing about his foot­work once and for all.

Even bet­ter: In­stall an of­fense that bet­ter makes use of his feet and doesn’t make a battering ram out of Zeke.

Fir­ing Scott Line­han won’t nec­es­sar­ily be the an­swer, not un­less Gar­rett sees the light. Be­cause this is his of­fense, too. Noth­ing hap­pens on that side of the ball with­out his con­sent. Make it part of the deal, Jerry. You don’t have to lis­ten to T.O. Not when such good ad­vice is avail­able lo­cally, and only at the cost of a sub­scrip­tion.

Rose Baca/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Ezekiel El­liott (left) is swal­lowed up by the Rams’ de­fense on a fourt­hand-1 run up the mid­dle early in the fourth quar­ter.

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