Last week I learned that Matt Ryan was the youngest player ever to 40,000 yards passing, which is very surprising. Ryan has been occasionally great but so consistently on the upper levels of mediocre that it’s surprising no one else was able to string that together for so long. Good for you, Matty Ice. Good for you.
We also learned how much even one weak link in an offensive line chain can do to you. Someone named Adrian Clayborn had six sacks, which of course is as much as a lot of good defensive players get in a season, or more.
In fact, Clayborn himself has only passed that number once before, on the season, in his rookie year with 7.5. He now has 8 in 2017, mostly courtesy of this last game. Congrats to Clayborn, and his agent.
And, we learned a little about how the Cowboys offense looks without Ezekiel Elliott. But not necessarily for the right reasons. A good offensive line can make a lot of mediocre running backs look really good, and folks around here forget that Darren McFadden, just bumped from second to third string, was the fifth leading rusher in the NFL not too long ago.
In this last game, Alfred Morris got 53 yards on 11 carries, which is a very good number, nearly 5 yards per carry.
So, then, maybe the game plan was a little at fault. It’s obviously hard to trust the running game when you’ve lost your best back, but Dak Prescott, sadly, is not currently playing well enough not to see if you can get him some space.
His 30 attempts were more or less what he’s been doing all season, and his 66.7% completion percentage was his highest mark since week five against Green Bay, not to mention his third highest of the season. But you know where this is going.
His 176 yards on the day were his second lowest of the season. But it was also qualitatively different than his other low games. When he last failed to break 200 yards passing, Zeke carried 33 times for 150 yards and 2 TDs against the Redskins. When Dak throw for only 183 against the Cardinals, it was on only 18 attempts, compared to 22 Zeke rushes for 80 yards and a TD.
No Zeke, and no running game, meant a lot of unproductive attempts, which meant a grisly 5.87 yards per throw. The Falcons have a good defense, 7th in yards allowed this season, and even better in pass defense, but 5.87 is lower than the yards per allowed by the stingiest pass defense in the league (Jacksonville, 5.9).
It’s not what you want to see from a good young quarterback, in a game that’s supposed to feature a good young quarterback.
In the long run of the Cowboys’ everything, this season only had the expectations that it did because last year made it seem possible, some day, and the youth of the skill players suggested some day might be coming soon.
They should be better next year, and it’s still possible they make the playoffs this year – depending, in part, in how they do against the Eagles this Sunday.
But, right now they’ve either got to trust what running game they have, more, or their QB has to rise the occasion a little bit better. And for this season to be a positive, that second thing is most important of all.
Do you feel like the Cowboys can hang on in the playoff race until Zeke returns in December or are they already doomed? Share your thoughts with Andy on Twitter @andytobo.