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Cowboys News: Even without Elliott “we’re probably going to run first more than most teams.”

Latest Cowboys headlines: Cowboys' run game presses on; Jerry Jones not done with Goodell yet; why the great NFL passing boom is over.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With Ezekiel Elliott's return imminent, Cowboys' run game presses on - Todd Archer, ESPN
Scott Linehan likes what he got out of the ground game in Elliott's absence.

Heading into the final game without Elliott against the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys’ running game has not been an issue. They have averaged 120.4 yards per game on the ground. While that is not at the same level as the 148.3 yards per game they were averaging with Elliott, it still would rank ninth in the NFL.

“It wasn’t exactly what we wanted initially, but we just stayed with it,” Linehan said. “And the guys know that for us to be successful in our philosophy here -- and I use the term primary run team -- we’re probably going to run first more than most teams in this league, so to do that it doesn’t matter whether you got Zeke out there or put Al or Rod in there. You’ve got to stick with it. I think the guys have done a great job of hanging in there with it and started to be even better and produce more like we were accustomed to prior to Zeke not being here.”

As Ezekiel Elliott nears return to Cowboys, Alfred Morris' audition to be an NFL starter again concludes vs. Raiders - Brandon George, SportsDay
Morris will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, and he'll likely be looking for a chance to start somewhere.

With star back Ezekiel Elliott back to work Monday after serving his six-game suspension, Morris will return to his backup role. He gets one more chance Sunday night at Oakland to impress future suitors.

This six-game stretch will serve as a resume builder for Morris in the offseason as he hits free agency.

"It's good that I can get some film out there and show, 'Hey, I still got this' because I still do," Morris said. "I know a lot of people may say, 'He's washed up,' and this stuff, but I don't listen to that. Critics are going to be out there. I really don't care what they have to say about me."

"I'm really not focused on that," Morris said of a future contract. "I'm just trying to do the best I can to help my team win. I feel like I'm doing a decent job of that. If somebody sees something and notices it, great. If the Cowboys want to [re-sign me], great. I'm just going to continue to play this game I love. We'll see what happens after the year is over."

Orlando Scandrick improving, but will miss second straight game - Todd Archer, ESPN
Scandrick missed practice for the second straight week and was ruled out for this Sunday's game.

Scandrick was able to do all of the lifting of weights required during the week, but he has not practiced in two weeks after suffering the injury Nov. 30 against the Washington Redskins when he was kicked in the back on the game’s third play.

With Scandrick out, rookies Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods will handle the top three cornerback spots against the Raiders.

Cowboys final injury update: No David Irving at practice again, likely to miss Raiders game - Dave Halprin, Blogging The Boys
The Cowboys sound like they won’t have their big defensive tackle for the game.

The hopes that David Irving will play on Sunday night took a hit today when Jason Garrett announced he wouldn’t practice again. Irving hasn't practiced since the conclusion of the Washington game, a game where he sustained a concussion. Unless he gets much better quickly, it doesn’t sound like the Cowboys will have him available when the team travels to Oakland.

Nigerian roots helped set principles for Cowboys rookie Chidobe Awuzie - Drew Davison, Star-Telegram

This article looks into how Awuzie’s Nigerian upbringing shaped him into the player he is. His mom, Victoria Awuzie, explains:

“The way we were raised, we don’t quit,” Victoria said. “If you make a ‘B’ in school and some people made an ‘A,’ you’re asked, ‘Why didn’t you make an ‘A?’ It’s crazy like that in the Nigerian community.

“It’s all about dedication and Nigerians are very proud of anything they do. They want to see it through. They have a lot of pride in anything they’re doing.”

Along with Awuzie, the Cowboys boast another player of Nigerian descent in defensive end Benson Mayowa. Much like Awuzie, Mayowa explained the Nigerian upbringing by saying, “It’s strict. We weren’t taught to play sports really. It’s more teachers, doctors, lawyers and jobs like that. Football players? It’s not looked down upon, but it’s foreign to foreign players.”

Awuzie agrees.

“When my parents came over here, they didn’t come over here to have fun. They came over here to go to school, to learn, to try and have their place in this world,” Awuzie said. “It was very serious. They had to work hard to get into this country and it’s a very serious thing. And their kids come out, if they do right, there is a lot of opportunity here.”

Why recent play of Cowboys RT La'el Collins 'says a lot' about his professionalism, toughness - David Moore, SportsDay
Collins has faced some adversity the last few weeks but has come through with flying colors.

Right tackle La'el Collins hasn't missed any games for the Cowboys this season. But he did miss nearly three weeks of practice before returning to the field on a limited basis this week.

What has offensive coordinator Scott Linehan learned about Collins during this stretch?

"He's a tough dude and a heck of a player for us," Linehan said.

Collins has played and graded out well the past two games despite dealing with a bulging disc in his lower back. His practice Thursday was his first since Thanksgiving week.

"I feel good man," Collins said afterward. "It's great to be back out there in practice and working on my game. All it needed was time to let it calm down a little bit."

Stephen Jones: Jaylon Smith has exceeded expectations the most - SportsDay Staff
Stephen Jones took to Twitter to answer questions from fans, including this one about which player has exceeded expectations the most.

At the end of the day, I have to say Jaylon Smith. He's a guy everybody thought we had too high of expectations for, but I think he's even exceeded our expectations in terms of coming off of a major injury and certainly being able to contribute. I think his future is only going to get brighter, he's only going to get better and we're certainly lucky to have Jaylon Smith on this football team.

Jerry Jones Isn’t Done. He’s Playing the Long Game - Albert Breer,
You'll want to read this article in full if you want to understand what Jerry Jones is looking to achieve versus Goodell and versus the league office - and his odds don't look bad.

Jones is still looking to shake up the compensation committee that will determine Roger Goodell’s bonuses, and will push to give owners more power over the direction of the league during the remainder of Goodell’s tenure.

If Jerry gets his way, look for a major overhaul in the league office in the coming months.

Accordingly, a shakeup in the league office could be coming. Chief operating officer Tod Leiweke, chief marketing officer Dawn Hudson, special counsel Lisa Friel and EVP of health and safety Jeff Miller are among those whose roles could change significantly (if they’re not out). General counsel Jeff Pash is another figure some owners are disillusioned with, but his value on the labor front will likely protect him.

So yes, we’ll come out of 2017 knowing who the commissioner will be for all of 2018 and beyond. But how the rest of the league works, and how much power Goodell himself will wield, remains up for discussion, with much on the line in the coming years.

The Great NFL Passing Boom Is Over. Hope You Enjoyed It! - Ty Schater, FiveThirtyEight
After a steady six-year climb, NFL offensive numbers have fallen back to Earth this year, as defenses seem to have finally figured out the shotgun.

Halfway through the 2011 season, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had a roundtable of experts advance various theories — from the offseason lockout to the weather. Denver Broncos defensive back Champ Bailey hit on something big: a dramatic increase in the use of shotgun formation.

“What I want to know is, did college and pro coaches have some sort of secret meeting or something?” Bailey said. “Seems like there’s not the prejudice against the shotgun there used to be. Basically, what I see when I line up now is no more smashmouth football.”

In 1996, three years before Bailey entered the NFL, pro offenses lined up in shotgun formation on just 7 percent of snaps, according to Football Outsiders. By 2011, that figure had increased to 41 percent. In 2016, Chip Kelly’s San Francisco 49ers set a record, using shotgun on 99 percent of their plays. The leaguewide average for last season, 68 percent, matched the league high from just five years earlier.

But this year is different. Teams are passing less often, and they’re less effective when they pass. As a result, offensive output is down across the board.

It also seems that college and pro defensive coaches finally held their own secret meeting; NFL defenses have adjusted how they cover shotgun and spread-style offenses, smothering the short passing game.

Teams that can both run and pass the ball well from under center will always be harder to defend, and teams that can’t throw the ball well are no longer putting up big numbers just by throwing it more.

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