sportsCowboys

Cowboys hope Andy Dalton’s return can make their debilitated offense a strength once again

An offense that averaged 32.6 points in Dak Prescott’s five starts has limped along at 10.25 points in the four games since his injury.

Andy Dalton has done this before.

Just not this month.

The Cowboys face their third opponent of November when they take the field Sunday afternoon against Minnesota. Dalton will be their third different starting quarterback.

After Dak Prescott was lost for the season, no one expected the Dallas offense to operate at the same, prolific level. But no one foresaw the team playing Russian roulette at the position.

An offense that averaged 32.6 points in Prescott’s five starts has limped along at 10.25 points in four games since. The Cowboys and their three-headed quarterback of Dalton, Garrett Gilbert and rookie Ben DiNucci have found the end zone just twice in 47 possessions since Prescott’s injury.

Turnovers have been a constant, even with Prescott. Dallas has lost the ball 20 times this season. Only Denver (21) is worse.

But the recent issues go beyond turnovers. The revolving door at quarterback has prevented this group from gaining its bearings in the wake of Prescott’s departure. A lack of consistency at the position has made the offense the team’s most underperforming unit at the moment.

Let that sink in.

“I think it is a little difficult when you’ve got three different quarterbacks,’' running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “Then on top of that, the offensive line is still banged up. I think one of those games we missed Zack [Martin].

“It’s just a combination of things.’'

Two points here, which is only one less point than the Cowboys scored in losing to Washington to end October.

Elliott has not taken up the offensive slack the way you would expect in Prescott’s absence. The Cowboys are averaging 114.2 yards on the ground in the last four games. That’s only a few yards more than they were averaging when Prescott was slinging it around the field.

Dalvin Cook dominates the conversation heading into Sunday’s game. Alone. No one is talking about a showdown between the Vikings back and Elliott.

That’s because Elliott hasn’t rushed for 100 yards in a game this season.

“My frustration is that we’re 2-7, not that I haven’t had a 100-yard game,’' Elliott said. “We’re just trying to come together as a team and find a way to win a football game.’'

The raw numbers are too jarring to consume at first glance. To soften the blow, just know that the Cowboys are picking up 58% fewer yards through the air than they were when Prescott was healthy.

A Cowboys player had 80 or more yards receiving nine times in the first five games.

No receiver has reached 80 yards in the last four games.

The explosive element of the Cowboys attack is gone.

“We’re still running the same plays and everything,’' receiver Amari Cooper said. “But everything starts with the quarterback. To be explosive, we have to make those plays down the field.

“We still have the same receivers. We’re doing a good job. We just have to do what we do in practice. In practice we look good. We just have to transfer it to the game.

“That’s it.’'

That’s on Dalton. Cooper said the receivers are comfortable with the veteran quarterback and feel like they are getting a rhythm with him.

Elliott believes Dalton’s return — he missed the last two games with a concussion and COVID-19 — opens up the playbook more than it has the first two games of this month.

“He’s been in the system long enough,’' Elliott said. “It’s kind of tough when you’re a guy like Garrett who’s coming in. He’d only been here for three weeks and you throw him in a game [with Pittsburgh] and he’s got to command the offense.

“Garrett, he did a hell of a job. But I think it does open up a little bit more with Andy back.’'

All of this speaks to how this 2-7 season has been turned upside down.

“I felt that the offense really coming out of training camp was clearly ahead of the other two phases,’' head coach Mike McCarthy said.

And now? Special teams appear to be in synch with the defense coming on the last few weeks. Offense has fallen to the back of the pack.

“It’s understandable the offense is going back and forth a little bit,’' McCarthy said. “It’s only natural because of the different combination of lineups that we’ve been playing with.

“But yes, we’re very cognizant of the different lineups, but we need to play to that. At the end of the day, we need to make it a strength.’'

The Cowboys hope Dalton’s return does that. Starting against the Vikings and coming back four days later on Thanksgiving to do so again against Washington would be a positive step.

“When you’ve got a bunch of different guys coming in it makes it just that much tougher, tight end Dalton Schultz said. “That’s not an excuse. That’s not a crutch.

“But having Andy back has definitely been a help for us this week. A lot of guys have gotten a lot of work with him, whether that be in training camp or extra work with routes.

“I think having him back will be good for us.’'

Catch David Moore and Robert Wilonsky as they co-host Intentional Grounding on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) every Wednesday night from 7-8 p.m. through the Super Bowl.

Find more Cowboys coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Dallas Cowboys

Executive Leadership

  • Offensive Coordinator: Kellen Moore
  • COO: Stephen Jones
  • Executive Vice President/Chief Brand Officer: Charlotte Jones Anderson
  • Chief Sales and Marketing Officer/Executive Vice President: Jerry Jones Jr.
  • Head Coach: Mike McCarthy
  • Owner: Jerry Jones
  • Defensive Coordinator: Mike Nolan

Local Headquarters

Frisco, TX

Contact

View More Information

David Moore, Cowboys Insider. David is in his 4th decade of covering sports on the DFW scene. You know what that means. He's old.

dmoore@dallasnews.com @DavidMooreDMN
Cowboys Catch-Up

Be the smartest Dallas Cowboys fan

Get the latest news, analysis and opinion delivered straight to your inbox.

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy