Ezekiel Elliott was asked his opinion on why the Cowboys have struggled so much on the road, he claims that it all comes down to communication:
Ezekiel Elliott says terrible communication has been the biggest reason for the Cowboys' offensive struggles on the road this season. "It's seeing the same things, like, who our Mike (linebacker) point is. Who are we going to? What look are we getting? What are we doing?"— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 17, 2018
When you think about it, communication is the key to offensive success and the Cowboys are 0-3 on the road. Communication affects everything on offense and when you look at the Cowboys split statistics, it’s pretty clear that Zeke knows what he’s talking about. Let’s look at a few charts that show the sizable difference. First up, we’ll look at splits for total yards on offense and the quarterback’s passer rating.
|Splits||Total Yards||Avg. Pass Yards||Avg. Rush Yards||PPG||QB Comp. %||Passer Rating|
|Diff. Per Game||-87.7||-31.4||-56.3||-16.3||-2.4||-40.8|
The Cowboys, on the road, are leaving almost 90 yards of offense per game on the field and more than two scores as well. We can also see that more than half of that 90 is coming off their inability to run the ball as efficiently as they’re used to. Dak Prescott is also having trouble being accurate and efficient in the passing game. The Redskins are fourth-best in both passing and rushing defense. Most certainly, miscommunication up front with the offensive line has been a contributing factor and it must be corrected. Let’s look at penalties up front:
|Diff Per Game||4.34||1.3|
They only have four more penalties away from home but those penalties on the road have often been drive-enders for this offense considering how poorly they move the ball. So, what about protection for the quarterback? When the quarterback has trouble setting the protection or a lineman fails to block a blitzing linebacker, bad things tend to happen:
|Splits||Sacks Allowed||Sacks Per Game||INT||FUM Lost|
The Cowboys again just have ugly offensive performances when they travel, including more than doubling the average number of sacks, and turning the ball over. The Cowboys are lucky that the Redskins defense is tied for 26th in sacks and 20th in interceptions. Washington has forced eight fumbles, sixth-most this season. There are so many other factors here but they have to find better communication with setting the correct protection and Dak must protect the football. If they can’t get that under control, they have no shot at winning on the road.
Let’s talk about third downs for this offense because that’s been the biggest contributor to drives stalling without points. Before they took their foot off the gas against the Jaguars, the Cowboys had converted six of nine third downs this past week. They went one of eight in the second-half but that was mainly because they were ahead and killing clock, they still scored 16 more points.
In their last two home games, the Cowboys were over 40% on third down, that puts them just in the top-half of the league. They haven’t even reached 30% in third downs away from home and it’s killing them.
|Splits||1st Downs||3rd Downs||3rd Down Conv.||3D%|
|Diff Per Game||-6||0.4||-2||-15%|
Despite facing one less third down on the road, they are converting 15% less than they have at home. The Cowboys will face a Redskins defense that is allowing a 43% conversion rate on third down, tenth-most this season, they have to find a way to take advantage of that. The last thing we need to look at is red-zone percentage. The Cowboys have just been abysmal at creating opportunities and capitalizing in the red-zone.
|Splits||Total RZ Points||RZ Trips||RZ TD||RZ FG||RZ TO||RZ TD Pct.|
They have just about doubled their success in the red-zone at home in every category versus on the road. That’s disturbing because they have faced two of the worst red-zone defenses in those away games. This week, Washington is allowing a 66.7% conversion rate, eighth-most in the NFL, another area where the Cowboys must take advantage.
When Ezekiel Elliott mentions poor communication it translates in the evidence of their road performances. We’re in this position every week after the Cowboys come off of a victory asking whether this offense can take that next step. After completely dominating a legitimate defense like the Jaguars and scoring 40 points, we know that this offense can perform. Until they can show that they can find success on the road, the Cowboys are not contenders. As Zeke mentioned, if they improve communication, they can beat anyone on the schedule.