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Cowboys' 'Carbon Copy' Offense Shuns Star Ezekiel Elliott

Cowboys failed to strike balance between Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott

One doesn’t want to make assumptions after one game. But did anyone else feel like they were watching a carbon copy of a Dallas Cowboys' game from 2020 before Dak Prescott was injured?

The 31-29 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night saw Prescott have another incredible game statistically, as he went 42 of 58 for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

But that came at the expense of Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game. An ‘expense’ that comes with caveats.

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The Cowboys knew going into the game that Tampa Bay kept its No. 1 run defense together after last season’s Super Bowl run. So, it’s only natural to see offensive coordinator Kellen Moore skew toward the pass. Plus, there is the natural inclination to see what Prescott can do after nearly a full year of inactivity in a meaningful game. Finally, the Cowboys’ best run blocker, guard Zach Martin, was out due to COVID-19.

But 58 passing attempts? For a team that has a two-time NFL rushing champion on its roster? I mean, let’s throw Elliott a bone by handing him the ball.

Elliott finished with only 11 carries for 33 yards and two receptions for six yards. His backup, Tony Pollard, had two carries for three yards and four catches for 29 yards.

That’s 13 total hand-offs for the Cowboys’ two running backs. That isn’t a sustainable formula if the Cowboys want to be successful.

Again, Tampa Bay has a great run defense. But the Cowboys didn’t play the Bucs last season when the Cowboys seemingly put the offense in Prescott’s hands, too. To that end:

Prescott threw for 1,856 yards before his injury, which was the most of any NFL quarterback in that five-game span. He also threw for nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Prescott threw at least 39 times in his four complete games last season, and threw 21 times in Game 5 before his injury.

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In Thursday’s game, Prescott set a record for most completions in a Week 1 game with 42 (the previous record-holder was Peyton Manning with 40, per USA Today’s Doug Farrar).

Elliott rushed for 364 yards and five touchdowns in those first five games last year. He had 22 carries in each of his first two games, but fewer than 20 carries in the next three games.

The Cowboys went 2-3 in those five games in 2020.

So, what are we to make of this after one game this season?

Elliott will probably get more work next week, and moving forward. After all, the Cowboys just faced the league’s No. 1 run defense from a year ago. If the Cowboys were leaning into that on Thursday night, it would stand to reason that Elliott will get more work when the Cowboys face the Los Angeles Chargers Sept. 19.

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The Cowboys will keep leaning into Prescott. After all, he’s their highly-paid quarterback and, as we all saw, he’s bounced back nicely from his ankle injury of a year ago.

What the Cowboys have to do is find a balance, one that allows Elliott to be productive and allows Prescott to change the game. The Cowboys probably weren’t going to solve that balance issue against the Bucs.

But, if the Cowboys want to be a playoff team, they need to solve it. And if the Cowboys want to keep both players happy, they need to solve it. And, if these Cowboys wants to make the playoffs, they have to solve it. A one-dimensional Cowboys offense, as we saw on Thursday night, won’t make it happen, no matter how many turnovers the Cowboys’ defense creates.

You can reach Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.