Why has the Dallas Cowboys’ running game stalled?

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FRISCO, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott was not exactly breaking news when he talked about what makes the Dallas Cowboys’ attack successful.

“Running football has to be important to us,” the running back said. “I think it helps on this offense. I think we are a better football team when we can run it well.”

Elliott’s rating came before the Thanksgiving Day game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in which the Cowboys won 64 yards on 20 carries in the 36-33 overtime loss. That’s fewer yards than Elliott himself had five times in the Cowboys ’six-game winning streak earlier in the season.

The dropout rate is significant from the winning streak to the Cowboys’ last four games.

Maybe some of it has to do with Elliott’s knee injury, which could be more serious than he does, and the Cowboys have at least considered resting him, a source told ESPN, though that suggestion has not been reached yet.

Elliott has amassed 149 rushing yards in the last four games, the lowest four-game total in his career, and it is the first time he has gone four straight games without topping 51 yards.

But it is not the case that Tony Pollard’s race has been so much different. Take a 31-yard run away against the Kansas City Chiefs from a Wildcat formation, and he averages the same 3.5 yards per carry. carry. A 30-yard run against the Raiders by Pollard was wiped out by a penalty kick.

“Of course something we would definitely hope would be better right now,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “Something we have to look at in many different ways, first schematically, staff-wise.”

The Cowboys enter Week 13 with Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Saints (20:20 ET, Fox) – with no more coaches due to COVID-19, including head coach Mike McCarthy – so there is no reinvention at this time.

“We’re not going to run the triple option all of a sudden or anything like that,” Moore joked, “but I think it’s something you find out what kind of small adjustments and adjustments we can make. may be subtle, but I think they can be very effective if we find the right pieces and make our adjustments necessary to develop this thing in the right way. “

Opposite defenses have adapted to the Cowboys’ plan. In the loss to the Raiders, McCarthy said it “was more about some individual breakdown. I think it was almost across the board. We need to look at that thoroughly.”

“When you’re successful – we’ve obviously had a lot of success playing football in the first part of the season – people are ready for it,” McCarthy said. “We have to stay on top of our self-scouts because I think, like everything at this time of year, people are locked into your formations and your running tendencies, and when we run and how we run. It’s all part of the chess game. “

McCarthy believes offensive continuity plays a big role in a team’s success. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed three games with an ankle injury that moved Terence Steele to the left tackle. Connor McGovern replaced Connor Williams on the left guard two games ago after the coaches had had enough of Williams’ penalty (13). After Smith’s return, the Cowboys went with Steele over La’el Collins.

Against the Raiders, the Cowboys used Collins and Williams for a series for Steele and McGovern. The Cowboys went three and out.

This week, Collins will return to the right tackle with Steele on the COVID list. And the Cowboys will have no offensive line coach with Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko in the COVID protocols.

“I think you should look at our room first,” said Pro Bowl right-back Zack Martin. “We are very proud of that running game and over the last few weeks it has not been the way we would like it to be, so we just have to get back to basics.”

Elliott said defensive line movement and running flashes have caused problems, but Martin said the line has seen it all before.

“That’s the first thing a defense will do if it’s in there and gets blown off the ball,” Martin said. “They will start moving the line and you just have to be on top of it to react and somehow change some of your combo blocks on the go.”

The downside this week is the Saints’ running defense, which uses a lot of line movement and is great when it does not face the Philadelphia Eagles. In their last 72 games, New Orleans has allowed two 100-yard rushers – both Eagles (quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders last year). Two games ago, the Eagles ran 50 times in 242 yards with three goals from the Hurts in a 40-29 win over the Saints.

This may not be the week to try to knock it out.

“We have to make sure we stay within the plan of what we need to do to be successful against these guys,” McCarthy said. “But I think there are fundamental situations we can learn from and do a better job.”

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