DALLAS - The Dallas Cowboys season took a major hit on Sunday after a Georgia beat down. The team rolled into Atlanta without two All-Pro offensive stars, Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. Elliott started serving the first game of his six-game suspension and is not likely to return until the Cowboys face the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve.
Smith, who has been dealing with back issues most of the season sat out because of a groin injury he suffered against the Kansas City Chiefs. And if things couldn’t get any worse, the team’s All Pro linebacker, Sean Lee exited the game early in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.
Without these players on the field, the team struggled and struggled mightily. Here are this week’s winners and losers:
There were not a lot of things to get excited about in this game, but one of the few bright spots was the aggressive play of Anthony Hitchens. He was flying around all over the place and would missile himself at the ball carriers.
Early on, you could see him flourishing at his middle linebacker position. He smashed into Atlanta’s running back, Devonta Freeman, knocking him out on the Falcons’ offense second play of the game.
Hitchens would shift over to weakside linebacker after Lee got hurt and would continue to play well. He would finish the game with 10 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage.
Anthony Hitchens had a good game for DAL pic.twitter.com/BdAG55WNkE— John Owning (@JohnOwning) November 13, 2017
When the punter makes the “winner’s list,” you know that’s probably not a good thing. While there weren’t a lot of players that stood out in this game, Chris Jones continues to do his job very well. Jones ranks second in the league in fewest punt yards allowed and has been almost automatic at pinning teams inside the 10-yards line.
In addition to what he can do with his leg, Jones got another chance to show off some skills a lot of people don’t know about. Last season, he executed a great fake punt where he blazed down the sideline and flipped the field against the Philadelphia Eagles.
On Sunday, they would try a fake again, only this time he would pass it. Jones threw a strike to Brice Butler and it would have been a great play had it not been nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty.
On Sunday night the Cowboys and Eagles will face off for the first time this season. If Dallas had beaten Atlanta it would have set the stage for an interesting matchup as a win against Philadelphia would make the NFC East still up for grabs. But all that is moot now.
With the Cowboys trailing the Eagles by three games, they no longer can control their own destiny. A sweep against Philadelphia wouldn’t be enough to catch them as they would need help from other teams as well. For all intent and purposes, the Eagles are taking down the division title.
For now, the Cowboys must set their sights on a Wild Card spot. And even then, they still have a lot of work to do. There are currently five teams with the same or better records vying for a Wild Card spot – Carolina (7-3), Seattle (6-3), Atlanta (5-4), Detroit (5-4), and Green Bay (5-4). Both Atlanta and Green Bay hold the tie-breaker over Dallas by virtue of a head-to-head victory against them.
Three of the Cowboys four losses have been conference losses so they are not sitting in very good shape when it comes to tie-breakers. The Cowboys just need to get some W’s and not let it come down to a tie-breaker.
Nobody could have prepared themselves for the onslaught of havoc Falcons defensive end, Adrian Clayborn would wreak on Smith’s replacement, Chaz Green. Clayborn would have six sacks on the day and would continuously beat Green around the outside to get a clean shot at Dak Prescott. Chaz offered very little technique as his hand placement was poor and would frequently get pushed away which left him slow and helpless.
When the coaching staff finally had enough and benched Green for Byron Bell, he would get worked over as well. Bell would give up two sacks over a span of three plays, resulting in a turnover of downs and a forced fumble that was recovered by the Falcons.
The Cowboys had no answer for Clayborn and never has a pass rusher had such a dominating performance against the Cowboys. Ever.
No opponent in Cowboys history has ever gotten 5 sacks in one game _ ever _ until Atlanta's Adrian Clayborn faced LT Chaz Green this afternoon.— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) November 12, 2017
Last season, Tyron Smith gave up only two sacks. In this game, his replacements were giving up two sacks per quarter.
Running game is still a mystery
One of the biggest questions going into this game was how would the Cowboys supplement the running game without Zeke. After mixed results on Sunday, we still don’t know. On the surface, the running game was inefficient, with the running backs tallying a total of 65 yards on 15 carries. Most of that came from Alfred Morris.
In the first half, the Cowboys couldn’t get anything going on the ground, but in the beginning of the second half – the running game started to take off with some nice runs by Morris. The offensive line even got in on the action as they would take matters in their own hands and carry Morris for seven additional yards.
Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances caused problems for the Cowboys ability to sustain the run. Sacks and penalties would put the offense behind the sticks. Struggles in pass protection required the coaching staff to get creative with the play calling. Prescott would look to throw quickly and even had several designed runs.
Even when the Cowboys had success moving the ball, negative plays would pop up and spoil their chances to get points. And once the team got down by 20 points, the offense had a greater sense of urgency and abandoned the run.
It’s still tough to say how much Elliott is missed at this point.
When Sean Lee injured his knee in training camp of 2014, fans were writing him off as a guy that just can’t stay healthy. Lee would then defy his critics and have two straight healthy seasons. He did miss a couple games in 2015, but only one last season and that was because he was a healthy scratch due to the Cowboys not having anything to play for on the finale.
But this season hasn’t been so kind to Lee. He injured his hamstring against the Arizona Cardinals in week three and missed the next two games – both of which the Cowboys lost and were completed mauled in the running game. And as soon as he left the game against the Falcons, the defense would struggle and the team would be outscored 27-0.
Clearly, the defense is in dire straits without their star linebacker. And with him likely to be out these next few games, it’s going to make things even more challenging for the Cowboys.
After this disappointing loss, do you think the Cowboys are in trouble? Or can they shake it off and still make a playoff run? Share your answer with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.
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