FRISCO, Texas (AP) – Ezekiel Elliott finally had his first breakaway run of the season in Week 3 at Arizona, then lost 8 yards on his last carry with Dallas trying to run out the clock in a 28-17 win.
At least the Cowboys and their 2016 NFL rushing leader could say they bounced back solidly from Elliott’s worst game as a pro in a loss to Denver.
The win over the Cardinals also demonstrated that Dallas is still searching for the dominance that powered the league’s second-best running game a year ago.
FILE – In this Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries as Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (90) misses the tackle during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz. The win over the Cardinals demonstrated that Dallas is still searching for the dominance that powered the league’s second-best running game a year ago (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
“We answer these questions every year,” center Travis Frederick said. “We have a game where we’re not rushing as many yards and you say well, if they’re going to stack the box, you want to throw. I do think that we’re not as productive as we’d like to be and as efficient as we’d like to be in the run game. So we do need to work on it.”
There are plenty of theories, starting with Elliott being distracted by the legal fight over a six-game suspension that’s on hold while the case, related to a domestic incident in Ohio last year, plays out in federal court.
The Cowboys (2-1), who face the 29th-ranked run defense against the Los Angeles Rams at home Sunday, have two offensive linemen in new spots after the retirement of right tackle Doug Free and left guard Ron Leary’s departure in free agency.
Chaz Green is a full-time starter for the first time in Leary’s spot after spending his mostly injury-filled first two seasons at tackle.
La’el Collins, who was strong as a rookie at left guard in 2015 and even took Leary’s job before getting hurt last year, was moved to Free’s old position.
“We felt like there were going to be some growing pains,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Losing the two guys we lost, you don’t replace them with the same veteran experience. The only way these guys are going to get better is to go out and play these games.”
Elliott had a rough start to his rookie season, averaging 2.6 yards per carry in a loss to the New York Giants in his debut before getting benched after two fumbles in a win at Washington.
The former Ohio State star answered with four straight 100-yard games on the way to franchise rookie records with 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing.
While Elliott had 104 yards in the opener against the Giants, his per-carry average is just 3.5 yards after he finished at 5.1 last year. The Cowboys are a full yard below last year’s per-carry average of 4.8 yards.
“We’re more comfortable when we get 3 or 4 yards on first down and then another 4 or 5 on second down so we can convert a shorter third down rather than being third-and-long,” said Elliott, who is ninth in the NFL with 192 yards. “We’ve just been putting ourselves in a lot of situations where we’re in third and long.”
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FILE – In this Sept. 10, 2017, file photo, Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77), center Travis Frederick (72), guard Zack Martin (70) and offensive tackle La’el Collins (71) line up against the New York Giants during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys have two offensive linemen in new spots after the retirement of right tackle Doug Free and left guard Ron Leary’s departure in free agency. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)
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