FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Running back Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t think a demand for more carries is the answer for what ails a Dallas offense that’s threatening to derail the Cowboys’ season early.
And if offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is ready to start “slinging it around” to ignite a paltry passing game, quarterback Dak Prescott is all for it.
The underlying message of Linehan’s thinking is that the Cowboys (1-2) need to loosen up as they try again to bounce back from a rough road showing when Detroit (1-2) visits Sunday.
“I think our guys just need to just basically take the weight of the world off their shoulders and go out and play,” Linehan said Thursday. “Just start slinging it around, and they’re ready to do that. We made a positive step a couple of weeks ago.”
Slingin’ Dak Prescott? Not even close in three games this year, and in most of the last half of the 2017 season. He says he’s ignoring the numbers, which is probably a good thing since his offense is ranked 31st in the NFL in passing and the Cowboys have their fewest points through three games (41) since 1990.
“When you play the game and you come out of it and you know the stats aren’t that great, I’m not necessarily going and looking at them and saying, ’Oh, we’ve got to do this to win. We’ve got to do that,’” Prescott said. “It’s execution. We execute all the way across the board. Everybody does their job. The stats and everything will build up. The wins and everything are going to happen.”
They did two years ago when Prescott and Elliott were the dazzling rookie duo leading the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13 wins. The last victory was against the Lions, when Dallas broke a halftime tie with three touchdowns in a 42-21 win.
Elliott was quick to shoot down a correlation, though.
“That’s so far gone in the past,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t say as a team we will look back and see, ’OK, this is what we did in ’16 and this is how we’re going to get better two years later.’ That really doesn’t make sense. We have a whole different group of guys.”
So here’s the present.
While Elliott is tied for the league lead with 274 yards rushing, that’s not helping a receiving group suffering under the expectations of trying to replace 15-year tight end Jason Witten, the franchise leader in catches, and 2014 All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant, who has the most receiving TDs in club history.
Believe it or not, the Cowboys are averaging more yards per carry (6.0) than per catch (5.7) — all the more reason for Elliott to believe he should be getting more than the surprisingly low average of 16 carries per game. Dallas probably figured it would be closer to 25.
Elliott won’t be knocking on Linehan’s door because he looks at the two losses and sees deficits of at least two scores in the fourth quarter of both.
“I would love to see it more, but I just think the nature of the games we played ... we’ve been down,” Elliott said. “We’ve been having to try to come back. It’s hard to come back and try to run the ball. When you run out of time in the game, you can’t just be sitting there trying to pound it.”
The Cowboys sure haven’t been able to pass it, though. Prescott has the fewest downfield throws of at least 15 yards among QBs with three starts. His most reliable returning receiver, Cole Beasley, is the only one with at least 10 catches and 100 yards.
Allen Hurns, the first free agent signed after Dez Bryant was released in a cost-cutting move, has four catches for 51 yards. Rookie Michael Gallup, the first receiver drafted post-Bryant (third round), has almost as many drops (two) as catches (three) after a promising preseason.
The overarching conclusion for all participants: They need more time together. But time will be running out fast on this season with another loss.
“I wouldn’t say it’s trust,” Prescott said. “It’s knowing their chemistry, seeing a guy and saying, ‘Yeah, he’s even or he’s covered, but I’m going to throw him open or he’s going to run and get open.’ It’s just that chemistry we’ve just got to keep growing.”
The Cowboys will need that before they can really start slingin’ it.