- Tom Pennington/Getty Images
- Ezekiel Elliott is two games into serving his six-game suspension, and the Cowboys are now 0-2 without him, scoring just 16 points over eight quarters.
- Between Elliott’s absence and a few crucial injuries, Dallas’ offense has looked dismal.
- At 5-5 and looking up at a crowded NFC playoff picture, the Cowboys will have to drastically improve if they have any hopes of making it to the postseason.
The Dallas Cowboys are falling apart.
Beyond owner Jerry Jones’ ongoing war with the NFL, on the field, the Cowboys have looked absolutely atrocious the past two weeks, suffering two bad losses to the Eagles and Falcons. Their offense managed only 16 points combined and the Cowboys fell to a 5-5 record that would have them miss the playoffs if the season ended today.
The first and most obvious cause for their recent offensive woes is the loss of Ezekiel Elliott. After a seemingly never-ending legal battle over his six-game suspension, two weeks ago the Cowboys’ star sophomore running back finally started sitting out games to serve his punishment.
Zeke entered his suspension as one of the top rushers in the league, with 783 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, and 80 or more rushing yards in all but one of his starts. While Alfred Morris was still able to get the Cowboys 100 yards on Sunday night against the Eagles, he’s unquestionably less dynamic that Elliott, especially in terms of burst and big-play ability.
Elliott’s absence has also made defenses more keen to attack quarterback Dak Prescott with almost reckless abandon, secure in the knowledge that Zeke isn’t sneaking behind them to take a screen pass to the house after a sell-out blitz. Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn was able to amass six sacks in a single game against the Cowboys, and the ferocious front seven of the Eagles bothered Prescott all night on Sunday, bringing him down in the backfield four times and forcing him into questionable throws that helped lead to their three interceptions on the night.
It’s clear that Elliott’s absence is being felt, but he’s not the only key player missing from the Cowboys offensive attack. Once one of the most impressive units in all of football, the Dallas offensive line has changed a lot from last year. As Robert Mays at The Ringer notes, departure of Ronald Leary and Doug Free in the offseason were both big adjustments, and a groin injury has kept All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith out of the lineup the past two weeks. Combined with the loss of Elliott, and Dak Prescott has been left largely to fend for himself.
Moving forward, the road does not get that much easier for the Cowboys, with a game against a talented Chargers team on short rest this Thursday before back-to-back matchups against division rivals. While the Chargers defense doesn’t have the same game-altering potential as the Eagles do, they did secure five interceptions in the first half on Sunday against a rookie quarterback who was in over his head.
The year isn’t over yet for the Cowboys, but they’ll need to string together a couple of wins to stay involved in the hunt for the playoffs as the season enters the home stretch. Elliott is due to make his return in Week 16 against the Seahawks, but if the Cowboys can’t figure out a way to win without him, he might be coming back to a season that’s already lost.