UPDATE: Ezekiel Elliott withdrew his appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday for a potential preliminary injunction. A hearing had been scheduled for Dec. 1 for that preliminary injunction, which could have halted Elliott’s suspension after he sat out four games.
However, Elliott will now serve his entire six-game suspension and will not play again until the Cowboys host the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24.
By Dwain Price, NDG Sports Special Contributor
Entering this past Sunday’s road game against the Atlanta Falcons, the loss of running back Ezekiel Elliott to an NFL-mandated six-game suspension appeared to be the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest problem. However, after further review, the absence of perennial Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Tyron Smith was actually the team’s biggest problem.
With Smith unavailable to play due to a groin injury, the Falcons took advantage of his backups and went on to bash the Cowboys, 27-7. And if the Cowboys don’t find a way to better protect quarterback Dak Prescott by the time they host the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night at 7:30 at AT&T Stadium, they could very well wind up on the wrong end of that score, too.
In one of the worst performances by an offensive lineman in NFL history, Cowboys backup left tackle Chaz Green allowed unheralded Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to sack Prescott an unprecedented five times. Clayborn added another sack against Byron Bell, and also forced two fumbles and recovered one fumble.
Clayborn entered the game with just two sacks on the season. And the Cowboys prestigious offensive line had previously allowed only 10 sacks in their first eight games this season.
However, Prescott spent Sunday running for his life all day against the Falcons and wound up getting buried by the Falcons, who sacked him eight times. In the aftermath, since the Cowboys coaches made no major adjustments to protect Prescott against the Falcons, that obviously has to change against the Eagles.
If it doesn’t, the Cowboys won’t have a chance to win the NFC East and will instead spend the rest of this season chasing one of the NFC’s two wild-card playoff berths.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett tried to explain why he stuck with Green so long before finally replacing him in the third quarter with Bell.
“For the most part (Green) didn’t do a good enough job,” Garrett said. “Again, we’re down 10-7 at the half and I wanted to give him another shot coming out in the second half, and then ultimately we made that change.”
Green was very apologetic after the game, saying it was “unfortunate” that his haphazard play against the Falcons played a large role in the Cowboys falling to 5-4 on the season.
“It just hurts because I feel I let the team down,’’ Green said. “You have some good days, you have some bad days.
“This obviously wasn’t my best day at all. I’ll take this on my shoulders, I’m going to look myself in the mirror and I’ll just fix the things that I need to fix. I’m going to get it fixed.”
While it may be difficult for Smith to play against the Eagles and then turn right around and play four days later in the Thanksgiving Day home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Cowboys know they’ll be without Elliott for at least three more contests. Elliott is slated to have a hearing on his domestic violence case on Dec. 1, in which he hopes the final two games of his six-game suspension will be thrown out.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Sean Lee went out in the first quarter of the loss to Atlanta with a strained hamstring and could miss several games. In all, Lee has missed 41 of the 123 games he could have played in during his career due to injuries.
“We don’t anticipate him practicing, certainly immediately, this week,” Garrett said. “It might be some time.
“We simply have to play better when he’s not in there.”
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens hopes the Cowboys can step up their productivity on defense to compensate for the loss of Lee.
“It’s not as much as what more I can do,” Hitchens said. “I just got to do it consistently and keep that up.
“That’s a start for our defense, and as long as I’m playing good ball that’s all I can control. Throughout the week I just got to work with Sean – if he’s not playing – and just ask him what does he see on this play or this formation.”
The Cowboys are 0-3 this season in the games Lee hasn’t played in, or when he left the game early for good, as was the case against the Falcons.
“I’m going to be the guy making the (defensive) calls if he’s not (playing),” Hitchens said. “So I’m just trying my best to imitate him and to get everyone lined up.
“He’s going to help me throughout the week.”
A win over the Eagles would be a big boost for the Cowboys. After all, the Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 8-1, are three games ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East race, and have shown no visible signs of slowing down.
“As you know it’s a rivalry game (and) they’re big and physical,” defensive end David Irving said. “It starts with us up front.
“We’ve got to control the game. It’s simple as that.”
Led by quarterback Carson Wentz and running back Jay Ajayi, the Eagles are fourth in the NFL in total yards (377 per game), fifth in rushing yards (1,232) and 15th in passing (2,162 yards). That one-two punch has been the hallmark of Philadelphia’s success.
“He’s balling, it’s evident,” Irving said of Wentz. “That’s tough when you’ve got a team that can run and pass, and he’s a good quarterback.
“In order to have success we’re going to have to try to make them one-dimensional. If they can run and pass on us it’s going to be a pretty hard day.”
A “pretty hard day” the Cowboys hope will end in their favor.
“It’s a big game for us coming after that loss,” Hitchens said. “I think overall we just need to focus on what we can do, and that’s just getting better as a defense and getting better as a team.”
And also focus on finding a way to better protect Dak Prescott.