The Dallas Cowboys shutout loss at the Indianapolis Colts was historic for all the wrong reasons, the first time this team's been blanked on the scoreboard since 2003 and a deflating end to a five game winning streak. The inability for the Cowboys to score culminated with Running Back Ezekiel Elliott carrying the ball just 18 times for 87 yards.
The Cowboys have won only two games this year when Elliott has less than 20 carries, though he was much more of a receiving threat in both outcomes over the Giants at home and Eagles on the road. Against the Colts, Elliott did catch seven passes, none of which went for a score of course – coupled with his fourth down stuff from the three yard line to negate an early Cowboys scoring attempt.
The impetus on the Cowboys scoring a point in their first of three chances at locking up the NFC East hardly falls on Elliott, but this doesn't make a statistic posted by his mother on Twitter any less amazing.
The closest the Cowboys came to scoring on Sunday (blocked Brett Maher field goal attempt aside) at the Colts was the play before Elliott was tackled for a loss on fourth down. Fullback Jamize Olawale dropped a walk-in touchdown on a well designed play, putting the play in the books as nothing more than another that Elliott nor his Quarterback Dak Prescott could control.
The duo of Prescott and Elliott had accounted for a touchdown in all of their games together in Dallas, and you have to go back to September of 2015 to find the last collegiate game Elliott didn't score in. The third week of his final season at Ohio State, Elliott's Buckeyes managed to win 20-13 over Northern Illinois behind his 108 yards on 23 attempts.
Elliott not partaking in a shutout at any point in his football career before week 15 of his third professional season shows how maddening the Cowboys ebbs and flows on this side of the ball are. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan calling the plays, the Cowboys toe the line of overusing Elliott and forgetting about him at a rate that's already added pressure to their chance at winning the NFC East.
Linehan has fairly had to shoulder much of the blame for the Cowboys abysmal performance against Matt Eberflus' Colts defense, my own take on the matter summed up here:
“The talk of the league outside of “what happened to Dallas?” this week seems to be a much more global “what is going to happen in the NFC playoffs”? The Cowboys, Linehan included, would love to have something to say about both questions, yet have more than a large enough sample size of inept offense to see how things could go horribly wrong.” – Matt Eberflus Exposed Cowboys Biggest Weakness for Playoff Run (12/19).
“OC responsible for keeping an Ezekiel Elliott offense scoreless for the first time ever,” is hardly the latest revision Linehan wants to make to his resume considering the uncertainty of his job status at points earlier this season. Even listing such an “accomplishment” alongside another playoff appearance should have the Cowboys searching for an upgrade at Linehan's position this offseason.
The good news for the Cowboys is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town this weekend, their last place red zone scoring defense a potential remedy for whatever it was that happened at Indianapolis. Elliott has faced the Bucs once in his career, ripping off a career-high 159 yards and – yes, a touchdown.
The Cowboys path back to proving their most recent loss is an anomaly that won't slow their drive towards the postseason feels simple. Having total confidence in the Cowboys offense after last week would be reckless, but so too is expecting Ezekiel Elliott to do anything less than assure Dallas himself they won't be shutout again while restarting this personal streak.
Add in a potential return from Right Guard Zack Martin and Left Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo against Tampa Bay, and the time is now for the Cowboys to lock up the division with a week to spare behind a hungrier-than-ever Elliott.