Flailing Cowboys Offense Needs Complements for Elliott
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Since Ezekiel Elliott arrived in North Texas back in 2016, the dynamic running back has been the focal point of the Dallas Cowboys offense
This season Elliott will arrive in Philadelphia for the first 2018 matchup between the Eagles (4-4) and Cowboys (3-5) as the NFL's fourth-leading rusher with 680 yards on 149 carries, an impressive 4.6 yards-per-rush.
As a whole, however, the Dallas offense has struggled, ranking 27th in the league in total offense and 26th in scoring offense with the difference between now and Elliott's rookie campaign when the Cowboys won the NFC East in the slow erosion of the complementary players.
At one time, future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten and one-time All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant were also on the field with Elliott and now the former is in the ESPN "Monday Night Football" booth and the latter just signed with New Orleans and will be on the Eagles' radar in Week 11.
For Dak Prescott, though, a lack of playmakers catching the football has resulted in rather pedestrian numbers and it forced Jerry Jones to peddle what could be a top-10 draft pick at the trade deadline to Oakland for Amari Cooper, a talented but inconsistent receiver.
"Any time you take a Hall of Fame tight end away and a marquee wide receiver away, there's going to be changes in the dynamics," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz admitted. "That just sort of is what it is."
The Philadelphia defense has its own issues with Sunday night approaching, namely the absence of two of the unit's three starting cornerbacks. Jalen Mills missed practice on Wednesday with a foot injury suffered in London against Jacksonville and nickel back Sidney Jones was on a separate field working with trainers as he continues to rehab a hamstring issue that has cost him the past two games.
The good news is that veteran safety Corey Graham was back at practice and is on track to play after missing three games with his own hamstring issue giving Schwartz some options. The DC could start Graham at safety and slide Avonte Maddox back down to the slot or he could keep the rookie at safety and insert newcomer Cre'von LeBlanc, who was claimed off waivers from Detroit.
Either way, the goal is to stop Elliott and force Prescott to throw from the pocket.
"Ezekiel Elliott is still playing really good football, not only in the run game but in the pass game," Schwartz said. "[TE Geoff] Swaim has done some nice things at tight end. He's not Jason Witten, but he's done some nice things there, and Prescott has become more comfortable in what they're doing, and his ability to throw guys open, make tight throws, do those kind of things. Everybody is a work in progress at any point in time, but I think there have been significant -- you don't just see the same team that we played three years ago or two years ago, 2016, when we first got here."
Cooper is in Dallas because the top receiver had been slot option Cole Beasley with 36 receptions followed by the aforementioned Swaim with 19.
Schwartz, though, is mindful any NFL player can hurt you at times, especially with a banged-up secondary.
"There's some tough outs there," Schwartz insisted. "Cole Beasley is playing really good football. I guess I mentioned the running back. I think Prescott has elevated his game. Like I said, they certainly present some challenges. They've been hot sometimes this year, too, as an offense. They've had some times where they haven't been, but they've had some times where they heated up that it was hard for defenses to stop them. It's going to be a good challenge for us."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 30, Cowboys 17
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen