NFL

Ezekiel Elliott Is a Bigger Problem for the Dallas Cowboys Than Andy Dalton Is

Andy Dalton is trash. If you don’t believe it, just go onto Twitter and search for “Andy Dalton trash.” Approximately half the country tweeted something to that effect during the Dallas Cowboys’ 38-10 humiliation at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. And we all know social media is the go-to source of authoritative analysis, right? Sorry, Cowboys fans, but Ezekiel Elliott is a bigger problem than Andy Dalton.

Andy Dalton wasn’t very good on ‘MNF’

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Sports fans who put too much emphasis on statistics need to be reminded that people have drowned in rivers with an average depth of three feet. It’s what goes on beneath the surface that matters.

Andy Dalton’s numbers in the loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football were not very good. Dalton completed 34 of 54 attempts for 266 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. The first two things that stand out there are that 54 passing attempts are about 15 too many and 20 incompletions equate to 20 wasted downs.

The Cowboys fans trashing Andy Dalton, though, see a different culprit: the two interceptions. The Cardinals picked Dalton early in the third quarter when the score was already 21-3 and again at the start of the fourth when it was 28-3. By the time those plays happened, the Cowboys were already playing from behind and had shifted to the one-dimensional offense they had resorted to for most of their first five games this season.

There’s no disagreement that Dalton was largely ineffective, but it’s not as though the Cardinals had to pay much attention to the run by that point.

Circumstances were different in Week 5 when Dalton replaced the injured Dak Prescott midway through the third quarter. That was a back-and-forth game, and the New York Giants defense still had to respect the run. Dalton went 9-for-11 for 111 yards, and he drove the Cowboys to the winning field goal in the waning moments.

Ezekiel Elliott’s fumbles killed the Dallas Cowboys

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Andy Dalton was 15-for-20 for 82 yards in the first half of the Monday Night Football loss while it was still some semblance of a game. If that doesn’t sound very impressive, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was a modest 8-for-19 for 128 yards at the time. Of course, 80 of those yards came on one throw to Christian Kirk, who finally slowed down at the back of the end zone.

Needing to play catch-up, the Cowboys ran the ball only 12 times (for 31 yards) in the second half, and Dalton wasn’t up to the lofty standards that Dak Prescott had been setting while running up pinball-machine numbers to overcome Dallas’ defensive deficiencies.

Forget about Dalton, though. This latest Cowboys atrocity traces back to Ezekiel Elliott. It was the running back with the $90 million contract – remember Jerry Jones paid him instead of Prescott before the 2019 season – who fumbled twice in the first half.

The first fumble, off an improvised shuffle pass from his scrambling quarterback late in the first quarter, turned the ball over at the Arizona 46-yard line, and the Cardinals scored 11 plays later to break the scoreless tie. The second fumble came two plays later and set up the Cardinals’ five-play, 27-yard drive for another touchdown.

“I got us off to a terrible start,” Elliott said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m supposed to be a guy the team can rely on, a guy the team can lean on.”

Ezekiel Elliott is a fumbling machine

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Andy Dalton actually had the Dallas Cowboys on the move in their possession after the second costly turnover before a penalty on CeeDee Lamb killed the drive at the Arizona 35. On the first play after the punt, Murray hit Kirk in stride.

Neither Kirk nor the Cardinals ever looked back.

Forget that Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his fourth 1,000-yard rushing season in five years. For all the good he does, Elliott is a fumbling machine. He fumbled five times in 2016 when he led the NFL in rushing as a rookie. He fumbled six times in 2018 when he again led the league in yards.

And now Elliott has fumbled five times in six games in the 2020 season, raising his career total to 20. And the miscues have been costly. Defenses have recovered four of the five fumbles this fall, and they all led to touchdowns. The Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns each extended their leads to two touchdowns, and the Arizona Cardinals built their early two-TD cushion.

Whether your quarterback is Dak Prescott or Andy Dalton playing behind an offensive line with two tackles on injured reserve and Travis Frederick in retirement, those sorts of mistakes are absolute killers.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.