The Dallas Cowboys talked all week about how better communication was the key to finding offensive success on the road.
Specifically, the offensive line has struggled on the road compared to their home performances.
Nothing changed in Washington.
Offensive linemen were twice called for holding on plays that wiped away first downs, including late in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were trying to put together a game-winning drive. And then, with Brett Maher set up to attempt a game-tying 47-yard field at the end of regulation, long snapper Louis-Philippe Ladouceur was flagged for the little-called snap infraction, which pushed the kick back five yards. Maher’s kick hit off the left upright and the Cowboys lost 20-17.
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It was, unfortunately, a fitting way for Dallas to drop to 3-4 and 0-4 on the road.
“It’s tough any time we do something to beat ourselves,” Guard Zack Martin said. “That’s kind of Line 1, be an offense that doesn’t beat itself, and we did that too many times tonight. We had penalties, minus plays … that’s uncharacteristic for our team. We have to work on that and get better.”
But on the road this season, that has been a chief characteristic for the Cowboys’ offensive line, which had four of the team’s eight penalties Sunday at FedEx Field.
The Cowboys gained a season-low 74 yards rushing. Ezekiel Elliott was held to 34 yards on 15 carries. It’s the second-fewest yards he’s gained in his career. The 74 total rushing yards is the fewest since Dallas was held to 40 against the Broncos on Sept. 17, 2017, when Elliott was held to a career-low eight yards on nine carries.
“Well, it’s a good defensive front,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We weren’t able to run the ball like we wanted to. And then you get into some unfavorable situations pass protecting — obviously penalties were a huge part of this game.”
Tyron Smith’s holding penalty on the Cowboys’ first possession wiped away a 22-yard run by Dak Prescott on 3rd and 6 and forced a punt. on a 2nd and 10 pass to Elliott in the second quarter, rookie guard Connor Williams was flagged for a chop block, a 15-yard penalty that put Dallas in a 2nd and 25 hole and again forced to punt.
“It’s tough. We’re not here to argue with officials. We’ll fix our technique, learn from it and do better,” Center Joe Looney said. “When you’ve got a running back like Zeke teams are going to game plan around him and it’s our job to open up holes for him and we didn’t do a good enough job for him today.”
With the Cowboys trailing 13-10 and 9:46 remaining, the Dallas offense faced a 3rd and 4 from their own 20 when Prescott connected with Cole Beasley for a 16-yard gain. But Williams was called for holding, pitting the Cowboys into a 3rd and 14 from their own 10. The next play, Prescott was sacked and fumbled at the 1-yard line and the Redskins’ Preston Smith picked it up and stepped in the end zone for a touchdown and 20-10 Washington lead.
The offense, however, pulled to within 20-17 with a 12-play, 74-yard drive capped by Prescott’s 1-yard scoring run. Prescott took a couple hard shots, including one to the helmet that required a sideline concussion evaluation. He was cleared and returned to the field.
“Gutsy performance by our quarterback. He was awesome today. He took some shots and kept coming after them,” Martin said. “We have to do a better job running the football but it was awesome to see our quarterback bounce back after big hits like that.”
After the defense forced a three and out, the Cowboys had the ball at their 36 with 1:09 remaining.
“I don’t think there was any question in anybody’s mind when you’re starting a drive and you’re down in the game you’re going to go down and win it,” Looney said. “We had the opportunity but unfortunately the ball didn’t roll our way.”