The Dallas Cowboys have focused their offense around Dak Prescott while Ezekiel Elliott has been underutilized. Then they played the Rams Sunday.
The last Dallas Cowboys possession of the first half against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon reflected four seasons of Cowboys football. And it hopefully is a glimpse into the future in which the organization realizes that running back Ezekiel Elliott, not quarterback Dak Prescott, should steer the offense.
After linebacker Sean Lee snatched his first interception since 2017 with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, the Dallas offense nearly settled for a three-and-out. But Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers’ penalty for illegal hands to the face gave Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore an opportunity to reconsider who he’d forgotten … Zeke!
On the previous three downs, Prescott threw an incomplete pass, ran for two yards, and threw the ball away. It was looking as if Lee’s rare interception (returned to inside the ten-yard-line) would only result in a field goal try.
Presented with a new set of downs due to the penalty, Moore apparently realized his mistake and immediately put the ball in Elliott’s hands. Touchdown. Dallas headed into the locker room with a surprising 28-7 halftime lead over the Rams.
This season, the Cowboys are 6-0 when they have a balanced offense or favor the run. They are 1-7 when they favor the passing game.
Against winning teams, Moore’s offensive playcalling has leaned heavily on the arm of Prescott, leaving a superior running game waiting in the backfield. Sunday night, Kellen unleashed his backs, calling 45 running plays in comparison to only 23 passes.
It didn’t happen right away. The Cowboys started playing the Rams as they had other teams with winning records, mostly passing. Prescott’s throws were far from perfect. He threw behind several receivers, including tight end Jason Witten, who reached back for a one-handed grab to score late in the first quarter.
The running game finally received prominence with the Cowboys’ third scoring drive, featuring runs by Elliott (8), running back Tony Pollard, and wide receiver Tavon Austin. Even Prescott himself ran the ball for a first down on fourth and inches. The drive lasted 7:57, totaled 11 running plays, and resulted in Dallas taking a 21-7 lead with a one-yard Elliott touchdown.
What else did running the football do? It gave the defense the rest it’s been lacking for the last three games. And with that rest came Sean Lee’s interception.
By the end of the first half, the Cowboys had rushed 24 times and thrown 16. After the half, Prescott continued handing the ball to Elliott and Pollard. Both backs finished the day with more than 100 yards rushing and combined for 55-yards on five receptions.
With Dallas’s offense handling its end of the load for the first time in a while, the defense forced four three-and-outs, had two sacks, hurried Rams quarterback Jared Goff six times, and added three tackles for a loss showing that when the offense plays well the defense has the energy to match it.
For the first time this season, the Cowboys defeated a team with a winning record. But it was also the first time against a winning team that Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and Moore flashed the right star.
Time after time, Elliott has proven to be the key factor for winning games. Not yet 25 years old, Zeke has already earned two NFL rushing titles in two full seasons. Since Dallas drafted him fourth overall in 2016, the team has struggled to win in his absence. Elliott confirmed Sunday night, however, that his contributions must be much more than serving as a decoy for an unremarkable passing game.
If the formula for beating the Los Angeles Rams has not validated for Jason Garrett and Kellen Moore that Ezekiel Elliott should be the offensive centerpiece, then Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should fire both of them at the first sign that they still haven’t gotten it. There’s no need to wait until the end of the season.