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Cowboys news: Why it takes “11 guys to slow down” Ezekiel Elliott.

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Plus: How Cowboys players and coaches plan to fix their away-game issues.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Texans GM Brian Gaine knows Ezekiel Elliott is one of the NFL’s best players - Matt Mosley, SportsDay
Much like any opponent, Gaine knows that Ezekiel Elliott must be prioritized because he’s one of the league’s most elite players.

Gaine: First and foremost, we have tons of respect for him. He’s a top five back in the league, arguably. One of the better running backs in the NFL. He’s that multi-dimensional player. He’s a three-down back who can rush inside, outside, play with power and can threaten the perimeter. He has enough speed to create chunk plays, and he doesn’t get enough credit in the passing game.

Every down, you have to account for him. You may not stop him, but you make an effort to control him. It takes 11 guys to slow down Zeke Elliott.

How Ezekiel Elliott surprised teammates, sparked Cowboys last Sunday - Jon Machota- SportsDay
Elliott sparked his teammates prior to their week four victory with his energy and leadership.

“This is a new dimension for me,” Elliott said. “I’ve never really had to have been that guy. But with Witten gone and Dez (Bryant) gone and Sean Lee hurt, opportunities open up and sometimes you have to be that guy.

”I’m going to do whatever I have to do for this team, whatever we have to do to be successful.”

Ezekiel Elliott stepping out of his comfort zone for Dallas Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN
This team needed someone to fill the pregame leadership role occupied recently by folks like Jason Witten or Sean Lee. Elliott ran with the opportunity.

“Zeke did a good job just bringing out that natural energy. You can feel it, and you knew from that moment the team felt it, and it was something that we needed,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Zeke brought that energy there to the first play and all the way up to the last one.”

Elliott followed his speech with what Jerry Jones called the running back’s best game as a Cowboy. He had 152 yards on 25 carries. He caught four passes for 88 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown. But the most important play was a 34-yard catch down the sideline that set up Brett Maher’s game-winning field goal.


Silencing Houston’s home crowd key vs. Texans - Margaux Gill, DallasCowboys.com
The Cowboys are 0-2 on the road this season, which is unlike the Cowboys teams of the Jason Garrett era.

In those two losses, the offense averaged 10.5 points, 267.5 total yards and converted 5 of 24 total third downs. Prescott got sacked 11 times.

“I always think it challenges you,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re going to play eight games a year on the road. We’ve played well on the road before. It’s just something we have to do a good job of. It’s one of the reasons why we have crowd noise at practice virtually every day regardless of where we’re playing the game. It’s just important to handle that stuff.”

Cowboys know offense still needs to improve and especially on the road - Stefan Stevenson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
We’ve seen that this offense can find some juice at home but now they have to prove it on the road against the Texans.

Linehan said the struggles on the road early this season could be partially attributed to the team’s youth.

“A big challenge for us, a big focus for us is to play much better on the road,” he said. “It’s indicative probably of a young team, but we’ve got to grow. Those road games are critical if you want to still be playing in January. This will be a great test for us.”

Cowboys defense will have to step up their game on the road against the Texans - Michael Sisemore, Blogging The Boys
Texans QB Deshaun Watson is poorly protected but Dallas only averages 2.5 sacks on the road. That’s not good for a defense that is predicated on pressure being their strongest attribute.

RJ Ochoa mentioned that the Cowboys are 32nd in the league in takeaways with just two fumbles and not a single interception. It’s been a trend for the Cowboys since their second-place finish in 2014 but they couldn’t get pressure to save their lives that season. The Cowboys have literally flipped that script, ranking third in sacks but dead last in takeaways. By not taking the ball away, pressure is the lifeline for this defense at the moment. The Cowboys got nine of their sacks in the first two weeks but only five in the last two.

Cowboys defense must shake habit of allowing chunk plays - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys defense is among the best against the big play but have seen an uptick in that category over the last two games.

If you go chart the play-by-plays of these games, you’ll see the Cowboys surrender explosive play after explosive play down the field – only to buckle down and force a field goal at the end of the possession.

Case in point: the 2014 Dallas Cowboys surrendered 59 explosive plays – but only six that I would consider as “back-breaking.” In 2015, the number of explosive plays jumped up to 68 plays, but the number of back-breaking plays only increased to 10.

As the talent level on defense improved in 2016 and 2017, the results improved, as well. The 2016 team that finished 13-3 allowed 58 explosive plays, but a mere four back-breaking plays. The 2017 team improved that number to 54 explosive plays, but still only allowed four back-breakers.

Now, compare that to what’s happening in 2018.

The Cowboys have only surrendered 13 explosive plays to this point in the season. That puts them among the best defenses in the league when it comes to limiting big plays. What’s troubling, though, is the back-breakers – which we mentioned above. In one month of this season, the Cowboys are one back-breaking touchdown away from matching their tally from the past two years.

Resetting the NFC East: Has Eagles’ slow start opened up the division? - ESPN Staff
The assumption was that the Philadelphia Eagles would run away with the East, but that ain’t happening.

The Cowboys may have the best chance to dethrone the Eagles because of their defense. If they can get any kind of consistency from the offense, they would have more than a puncher’s chance. The Cowboys’ strength is their pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence. Perhaps they found their offensive formula in beating Detroit by riding running back Ezekiel Elliott as much as possible. Elliott has shown he can handle the load, but Dak Prescott will have to make chunk plays in the passing game for the Cowboys to truly be successful.


Cowboys have the best pass rusher no one talks about - Stephen White, SBNation.com
Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White takes a closer look at Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence, one of the league's best pass rushers.

Oh, yeah — Hey, Dallas Cowboys: pay the man!

What might impress me the most about how Lawrence plays the game is the fact he gets everything out of his athletic ability by doing all the little things right with his feet and his hands, play after play after play. Just like every other part of his game, his effort is consistently outstanding. He is relentless, but he still manages to play under control and with forethought. And play at a very high level at that.

It’s not like he’s some genetic freak, either. Lawrence is relatively average height for the position at 6’3, and he’s listed at 265 pounds, which is also relatively light for a defensive end. But none of that matters between the white lines on Sundays because Lawrence has that almighty equalizer on the football field: exquisite technique.

Two Cowboys players named to PFF 2018 first-quarter All-Pro team - Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus
No, it's not the league leader in sacks.

It's also not the league leader in rushing yards.

So who does that leave?

RG – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys: No surprise here, as Martin has consistently been either atop this list or honorable mention over the course of his career. The Dallas guard hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10 of last season and continues to be the gold standard for pass protection on the interior.

CB – Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys: After switching from safety to corner over the offseason, it’s not hyperbole to say that Jones has been the best cornerback in the NFL so far this year. He’s been targeted 16 times, allowing only seven catches for 51 yards. That’s fewer than 13 yards allowed per game! It’s been quite the start for the Cowboys defensive back.

Bill O’Brien: DeMarcus Lawrence can “wreck a game” – Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk
Lawrence may not get credit from PFF, but he's sure getting credit from the Texans head coach.

Lawrence is off to a good start on that front. He has 5.5 sacks in the Cowboys’ first four games and has a pretty good chance to add to that total on Sunday night. Pass protection was more theoretical than actual for the Texans over the first quarter of the season and head coach Bill O’Brien knows Lawrence can make life miserable for Deshaun Watson.

“Great length, athleticism,” O’Brien said, via the Houston Chronicle. “He plays very hard, plays hard on every snap. He’s chasing the ball sideline to sideline, chasing the quarterback. He can wreck a game.”


David Irving and Randy Gregory expected to play Sunday despite missing practice - David Moore, SportsDay
Irving and Gregory were not at practice Thursday for different reasons but both still plan to play against Texans.

Irving did not take part in Thursday’s practice, but owner Jerry Jones said he expects the defensive tackle to play against the Texans. Gregory missed Thursday’s practice as part of a mandated session to fulfill the requirements of his treatment plan. He was scheduled to return from Chicago and be at The Star late Thursday afternoon or early evening, a source said, and should be ready to practice on Friday as he prepares to play Sunday.

Irving returned from a four-game suspension earlier this week and went through his first full practice with the club in nearly 11 months. Head coach Jason Garrett indicated that Irving would practice Thursday, but Jones told reporters later in the day that Irving was excused to handle a family issue.

Why did Randy Gregory and David Irving miss Thursday's practice? - Clarence Hill, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
No need to panic, two of the Cowboys pass rushers missed practice but they weren't for troubling reasons.

Owner Jerry Jones said Irving was tending a personal family matter, causing him to miss practice. Irving had a strong day in first practice on Wednesday and if he returns to practice Friday he should be good to go for Sunday’s game, where he could play between 10 and 20 snaps in a rotation at defensive tackle.

Gregory did not practice because he was in Chicago, according to Marinelli, meeting with the NFL’s medical director as part of his after-care program. He made a similar trip in August before the Cowboys played a preseason game in Houston.

Gregory should be back for practice on Friday and make the trip to Houston for Sunday’s game against the Texans, barring anything unforeseen.

What will Cowboys do to make room for David Irving? - David Moore, SportsDay
Who can it be now?

Do the Cowboys place center Travis Frederick or receiver Terrance Williams on injured reserve to create a roster spot for Irving or look elsewhere? One club official said Thursday another move is possible that would exclude either of those options.

Discussions have been ongoing in recent days. A decision must be made by Saturday afternoon to ensure Irving is eligible to play.