The Dallas Cowboys have been abysmal on offense in the past three games, all without the services of running back Ezekiel Elliott.
It’s translated into a historically low level of production on the scoreboard as the pendulum of the 2017 season has swung from an optimistic 5-3 moment after a 28-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 5 to a frustration setting at 5-6 after a 28-6 Thanksgiving loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Since Zeke’s suspension started, the Cowboys have done something on offense no other Cowboy team has accomplished.
Or failed to accomplish, in this case.
For the first time in franchise history, the Cowboys have failed to score at least 10 points in three consecutive games.
That level of futility never crept into the Cowboys’ organization during the throwaway 2015 season. Cowboy fans never had to suffer through watching an offense this inept when 5-11 seasons were the norm in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Not even in the early 1960s, when the team went a combined 25-53, did the Cowboy offense sputter like it’s sputtered in the middle of 2017.
But ask the Cowboys themselves, “What’s gone wrong? What needs fixing?” and one answer is more common than any other.
“I don’t know,” is the go-to response. It’s not exactly one that inspires confidence, either, as the Cowboys hang on to playoff hopes now by their fingernails.
“I don’t know,” running back Alfred Morris said. “I can’t figure out what it is, honestly, so try to go back to the drawing board.”
Center Travis Frederick is also scratching his head.
“Honestly, right now I’m not sure what the issues are,” he said.
Count receiver Brice Butler and tight end Jason Witten among those shrugging shoulders as well in the locker room.
“I wish it was as simple as one answer,” Witten said. “Collectively, our offense hasn’t gotten going. We’re just behind the chains too much and not making plays.”
Without Elliott hitting holes and making third downs manageable again, quarterback Dak Prescott has felt more pressure in the passing game and what was his great knack for ball security has turned into five interceptions in the past two weeks.
His two against the Chargers came in the fourth quarter, after the wheels started to get wobbly again in the third.
Butler said Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward “baited” Prescott into throwing his second pick, with the game’s outcome already decided with 6:49 left to play.
“Dak felt like he could thread it in there,” Butler said. “Which, I don’t fault him for the play. Casey’s a good player. Dak’s play has been the same, it’s just, we aren’t running the same stuff as we did before.”
But under the coach-speak umbrella of “next man up” and “togetherness,” no one seems to want to admit how much Elliott’s presence in the backfield really means to this offense.
“The last thing I am doing is pointing a finger and saying we need this guy or we need that to happen,” Prescott said. “We just have to figure out what is going on and get out of this funk.”
The second-year quarterback had sidestepped any notion of a sophomore slump through the first eight games of the season and had nestled himself in a comfortable position near the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. But his struggles, and the struggles of the offensive unit he commands, have magnified what Elliott’s presence on the field means.
How do you fix what’s wrong with this offense in time to salvage a playoff run if you don’t even know, or want to admit, what’s wrong?