It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys offense struggled without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, especially during the first three games of his suspension. Though Elliott is an elite running back, the Cowboys run game was still solid without him if evaluated in a vacuum.
Their passing game had some serious troubles during that three game losing streak, though, leading many fans to blame Dak Prescott and question whether he is truly the team's franchise quarterback (he is, guys, but that's besides the point).
When you have a player of Elliott's caliber, however, he doesn't even have to touch the ball to influence an offensive play. Defenses have to dictate their schemes towards Elliott, and this is most evident when the Cowboys run their play action boot-game.
Last week against the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys went to the play action boot early on. Prescott tends to use his legs to settle himself into games, so getting him on the perimeter and allowing him to throw on the move gets him into the groove of the game.
Dallas is in 13 personnel here with Alfred Morris in the backfield. They line Noah Brown up in the backfield, as they do when running inside zone split plays. Instead, Prescott fakes the hand-off and finds Brown slipping into the near flats.
The result is a good gain on this particular play, but pay attention to EDGE Bruce Irvin. Irvin is the EMLOS on the near side, and goes unblocked as left tackle Tyron Smith takes his zone steps the opposite way. Irvin shows nearly no respect for the run game and just waits for Prescott to turn around.
Irvin rushes right at Prescott and forces him to make a tough dump-off throw to Brown before even having a chance to evaluate what's going on down the field.
Now let's go back a few weeks, prior to Elliott's suspension. Ezekiel Elliott is in the backfield, and the Cowboys give the same offensive look as they did in the previous clip. Once again Prescott fakes the hand-off to the running back, and the wide-out (this time Terrance Williams) slips into the near flats.
But check out the Washington Redskins' EMLOS. He attempts to hip pocket Tyron Smith, turning his hips and losing his contain. Because of that small turn of his hips he has no chance to regain ground and get significant pressure on Prescott.
Dak has a much cleaner bootleg here and once again hits the crossing wide out in the flats for a positive gain.
The Cowboys could benefit from scheming Dak Prescott to use his legs early on in games, and with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield this becomes much easier to do.