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How the Cowboys unimaginative, over-used run game doomed them in loss to Saints

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The Cowboys looked like the old Cowboys in some ways, and that’s not good.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The honeymoon is over. Kellen Moore now has to prove that this marriage is really going to work. Through three games of the 2019 season it seemed as if the wunderkind could do no wrong. Suddenly, he’s under the microscope for some curious decisions in the game plan in the Cowboys 12-10 loss to the Saints.

It’s rare to lose an NFL game when your defense doesn’t allow a touchdown. Somehow, the Cowboys accomplished that feat on Sunday night. To do that, your offense has to stink. The Cowboys offense stunk.

While the passing game wasn’t terribly effective, it was the running game that really bottomed out. And it’s the way the Cowboys used the running game that reminded fans of the Scott Linehan era.

The Cowboys had 19 first down plays before their desperation drive at the very end of the game when they had to throw the ball every down. Of those 19 first down plays, they ran the ball on 11 of them. They gained a total of 21 net yards on those plays. That’s a 1.9 yard average per play. The Cowboys were putting themselves behind the sticks on a regular basis but just didn’t seem to care. Moore kept calling the runs, and Ezekiel Elliott kept getting stuffed.

Certainly there is blame for the offensive line who seemed over-matched on the day. It’s hard to run when your big uglies are getting manhandled, but the Cowboys basically just kept trying the same thing of handing the ball to Elliott to go between the tackles or occasionally off-tackle.

If Moore wanted to run so much, he could have gone with some variety. Like calling Dak Prescott’s number on a few read-options or designed draws. Instead, Prescott’s legs were ignored. He had one carry on the day, and that was the result of a scramble on a passing play. The last time Prescott had one or fewer carries in a game was the 23-0 beatdown at the hands of the Colts last season. Before that, the last time he had one or less carries was in 2017 in the 28-6 demolition from the Chargers. Notice a theme here? When Dak doesn’t run, the Cowboys usually have a terrible offensive day.

With the Saints obviously keying on stopping Elliott, Moore didn’t use that against them by running Dak. He also didn’t use anybody else, either. The Cowboys had one other player run the ball and that was Tavon Austin on a reverse. Tony Pollard only played two snaps the whole game. He never touched the ball. With Zeke being bottled up, and the willful disregard for Prescott runs, there was no effort to get Pollard involved to see if he could break the log jam. Instead, it was very Linehanesque. Damn the torpedoes, just keeping running Elliott into a brick wall.

You can’t blame Elliott, he was getting hit at the line on almost every play and would drive his legs just to pick up a couple of yards.

For one night, the ghost of Linehan haunted the Cowboys. During this week, Kellen Moore and Jason Garrett must hold a seance and exorcise those spirits. Passing the ball on first down, and letting Prescott run the ball, are easy fixes.