Last Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys displayed their worst performance since drafting Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. If suffering a 42-17 beat down on the road wasn't bad enough, Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a career low 8 yards on 9 carries.
Yes, 8 yards on 9 carries.
For the first time in over a year and a half the Cowboys could not get anything going on the ground, failing to defeat 7 and 8 man boxes and unable to get any real push from their heralded offensive line.
But, you guys know I'm not the one to simply spew takes without reviewing the film first. So, let's analyze the Cowboys' run game from Sunday's loss, and see exactly where things went wrong.
At times, Dallas was simply outplayed.
On Ezekiel Elliott's second carry of the day, they attempt to run an outside zone play to the right side. On the play side, the offensive line didn't look poorly at all here. Center Travis Frederick stays engaged with the defensive tackle, while Chaz Green and Zack Martin get to the second level and engage the linebackers.
On the backside, though, is where the play really falls through. Zeke sees a wide open cutback lane emerging, and quickly moves to that backside. Left tackle Tyron Smith attempts to run and cut the backside end, but simply gets beat. This is a fantastic individual play by the Denver end, which results in just a short gain for Elliott.
The tight ends must be better when run blocking.
On Elliott's first carry of the game, Dallas tries to open up with an outside zone to the left side. Before the offensive line can really even begin to create a running lane for Elliott, though, tight end Jason Witten gets cleanly beaten to the inside.
This is a tough block for Witten to execute, especially since his first step is with his outside foot, but he simply can't be bullied off the ball like this if Dallas is to be successful running the football.
In the second half, we see a combination of the first two problems I've mentioned. On the playside, tight end James Hanna gets beaten to the inside. Coming off the ball without much conviction, Hanna doesn't stand a chance against the talented Broncos front.
Zeke is forced to cut back almost immediately here, but will only find the backside end who has cleanly beaten right tackle La'el Collins if he does so.
Elliott is left with absolutely nowhere to go, and the play results in a five yard loss.
The problems here don't have a lot to do with scheme. Yes, I would like to see the Cowboys run a few more “exotic” running plays. I'd like to see Ryan Switzer involved in some jet sweeps, even if just a decoy most of the time. I'd also like to see more read-option plays, and more RPO's for Prescott overall. But, the Broncos defense just simply beat the Cowboys offense on most of their run plays Sunday.
If defenses are simply going to load the box and overcompensate to stop the run, one of three things will need to happen.
One, the Cowboys will simply have to be better. They are talented enough to dominate most teams on the line of scrimmage, and they will be forced to do so if they wish to be effective on the ground.
Two, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys receivers' will need to make big plays. Dez Bryant must start to be the deep threat which we all know he can be once again in order to soften up the defense and force bracket and zone coverages to be used against Dallas.
And/or third, the Cowboys need to get creative in the run game. They certainly have the personnel to do it with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Alfred Morris and Ryan Switzer, but now, it's time to execute.