Now that we've had a few days to brush our teeth and get the bad taste out of our mouths that was left by week one, it's onward and upward as they say. This week's plate is filled with another divisional foe, the reigning division champions, the Washington Redskins. A lot of times with these games they give you the old cliches of throwing out the records. Seeing as both these teams are 0-1, there is an added importance to winning this game and especially for the Dallas Cowboys. They cannot afford to start 0-2 in the division.
The Dallas Cowboys are a running team and they opened up with a goose egg for their efforts against the Giants. New York told the Cowboys they were not going to run on them and they succeeded. However, we've seen that when the Cowboys are determined to make it work, it will work against anything. At times in 2014, the Cowboys didn't care if the box was stacked, they still would find success with outside runs and their line deserves the credit. Looking back at this game, the Cowboys' offensive line didn't have their best day run blocking. They were outstanding in pass protection but it's this running game that is going to be their bread and butter this season.
Folks around the interwebs may be overreacting a little bit when it comes to Ezekiel Elliott's 20 carries for 51 yards debut. To that, I challenge you to go and look at the best running backs' week one debuts and you will find the correlation. Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Ezekiel Elliott all had tough sledding this week. All of them also had some struggles in their rookie seasons. It's just part of the game. With that pushed aside, if there were ever a chance to get the ship righted, it comes this week against those pesky Redskins. Pittsburgh laid out the blueprint and now the Cowboys need to follow suit.
If you look at these offenses, both Pittsburgh and Dallas have some similarities. They both want powerful running attacks and have the outside receiving talent break the back of a defense. If anything, the Cowboys struggled in week one because they didn't do what they do best; attack the defense with their running game. The Dallas' attack can be dynamic because there is so much they can do. Dallas didn't take advantage of all their abilities to pick up chunk yardage on Sunday and it hurt their offense exponentially.
Lucky Whitehead and Lance Dunbar are also big contributors to what the Cowboys can do on the ground. The offense was a bit stale but if they get these two involved along with more Alfred Morris and Elliott, they could be off to the races. It's more or less about opening it up instead of sticking with one method. If the Washington defense is stout in the middle (it isn't), run some sweeps and counters to bounce it outside and stretch the field. If they are playing well in containment, bust a draw up the middle. Heck, even Dak Prescott is a part of the success of this running game.
The Steelers carved the Redskins to pieces with their rushing attack. De'Angelo Williams (33), was phenomenal on the ground and Washington had no answers for him. The Redskins have lost key run defenders in Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher and their front seven is much different than it was last season. Williams was able to rush for 143 yards on 26 carries and he also scored two rushing touchdowns. With how similar these offenses could be with everything working, you have to expect the Cowboys watched Monday's game and saw what we all see.
For as much emphasis as the Redskins place on rushing the passer, they don't have the beef to stop the run and they currently are ranked 26th in the NFL. The Steelers converted 9 of 14 third-down attempts. They also had 9 of 23 first downs on the ground with 14 more through the air. Dallas is well aware that in this game when the Giants stopped them from rushing, it affected their passing game, too. Still, Dallas led in time of possession, they converted 58% of their third down attempts, they led in yards, they won the turnover battle. It all comes down to them not being able to get the ball into the end zone. A big chunk of that may have been alleviated if they were able to get the running game going.
Mickey Spagnola has a stat line that reads: every year the Cowboys have more than 10 rushing touchdowns, they have a winning season. In fact, every year they've had less than 10, 13 seasons total, they have had losing seasons. In 2014, they had 16 rushing touchdowns and they currently have one rushing touchdown on the year. They selected Elliott with the fourth-overall pick because they know of this stat. They have Alfred Morris as perhaps the best insurance policy in the league because they know of this stat.
If the Cowboys are going to get back on track and win a divisional matchup, it's going to start with the road graders they have up front. Pittsburgh showed them the way and the NFL has always been a copycat league. The Cowboys have to run, run, and run some more. After a week of rust, it's time to polish the running backs and knock the dust out of the Redskins.