The ‘next man up’ mentality definitely did not bode well with the Dallas Cowboys as the Atlanta Falcons score 27 unanswered points to put on a clinic.
Without Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee, the Dallas Cowboys were all out of sorts as they got thrashed by the Atlanta Falcons. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to continue their hot streak early as they intercepted quarterback Matt Ryan deep in Atlanta territory which turned into an easy Dak Prescott rushing touchdown, but that’s about all that went right.
With Zeke’s playing status being up in the air all season long, the coaching staff provided extreme confidence in the backup running backs should the reigning rushing champion indeed be suspended.
And last week, a Zeke suspension is exactly was happened.
But without Zeke, the Cowboys’ dominant run game was shut down. Backup running back Alfred Morris got the bulk of the carries, but it was Dak who was the Cowboys’ leading rusher at the half. Morris was able to get some nice gains on the ‘Boys first possession in the third quarter, but the drive ended with no points after a missed field goal.
Many fans were anxious to see what big-bodied running back Rod Smith could do when given an opportunity, but there was no spark in the offense when he was in the game. Veteran back Darren McFadden got only one carry the entire game, and it went backwards two yards.
But as sad as the running back was, that wasn’t even the worst part of the offense.
The Cowboys and Dak Prescott missed All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith dearly. Backup tackle Chaz Green was absolutely dominated all game by Atlanta defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The Falcons’ defense as a whole sacked Dak eight total times, but seven of those sacks came from that left tackle side.
Clayborn accounted for six of those seven sacks. Yes, you read that right. One man had six total sacks on the night with the bulk of them against Green. It was hard to watch as Green was getting
beat snap after snap, and Dak had no time to make any throws down field.
Clayborn has never had more than six sacks in a season in his career except for his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he totaled 7.5. The Cowboys’ backup left tackles made him look like an All-Pro.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys started off hot on Atlanta’s first three possessions that ended with an interception, a field goal, and a punt in which defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence notched a sack.
However, linebacker Sean Lee left early in the first quarter because of a hamstring injury. And once he left the game, it seemed like Atlanta was slowly starting to pick the ‘Boys defense apart.
The Cowboys never registered another sack or turnover after those first three drives. As a matter of fact, Matt Ryan had all day to throw, and Atlanta’s run game kept gaining momentum even without starting running back Devonta Freeman who left in the first quarter with a concussion.
I hate to place the blame of poor defense on the absence of one player, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Dallas lost two close games against the Green Bay Packers and the L.A. Rams without Sean Lee. And in both those games the defense gave up chunk plays through the air and on the ground.
This game was no different except that the offense was a mess. The result was a 20-point embarrassing loss against a team who the Cowboys may be fighting a wildcard spot for.
But if the Cowboys even want to think about squeaking in the playoffs, they have to figure out how to win games without three of their best players. It’s a tall order, but teams will continue to expose the absence of those players if America’s Team doesn’t fix the issues quickly.
The NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles are one of those teams and will show no mercy next week.