The anticipation of running back Ezekiel Elliott’s return from his six-game suspension was already building in the locker room after the Cowboys’ win Sunday night at Oakland. That hasn’t happened nearly as much as the Cowboys had hoped. With or without Elliott, the passing game has been stale much of the season. Getting Elliott back should boost the passing game. Elliott’s presence alone forces defenses to plan around stopping him first.
Prescott’s numbers dipped without Elliott. He passed for 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions the first eight games with Elliott behind him and posted a quarterback rating of 97.9. Over the last six games, Prescott has five touchdown passes with seven interceptions and a quarterback rating of 76.6.
Much of the outside chatter about why the Cowboys’ passing game hasn’t been as sharp in Year 2 under Prescott has been aimed at the lack of chemistry between him and Bryant. It’s more a combination of Prescott’s inaccuracy at times, the receivers’ inability to create separation and defenses simply taking away a comfort zone.
During Prescott’s rookie season, he was able to keep drives alive by finding slot receiver Cole Beasley, who led the Cowboys with 75 catches for 833 yards. Defenses aren’t allowing Beasley to get free on short routes this season, leading to what he called his most frustrating season as a pro. Beasley averaged two catches per game over the six-game stretch without Elliott. He has only 34 receptions for 302 yards all year. Williams has also been a nonfactor for most of the year. He doesn’t even have a touchdown catch with two games to play and averaged just 27.2 receiving yards without Elliott.
Prescott hasn’t found the same success throwing to Bryant that Tony Romo enjoyed, especially in the red zone. Prescott hasn’t given Bryant a shot to make a catch at times, sailing passes over his head or delivering them behind him. But Bryant hasn’t been as sharp, either. He has 10 of the Cowboys’ 24 dropped passes. Prescott has forced the ball to Bryant at times when coverage dictated that it go elsewhere. That’s part of why it’s been about a 50-50 chance that Prescott completes a pass thrown to Bryant. Bryant has caught only 63 of his 118 targets. Bryant also doesn’t have a 100-yard receiving or a multiple-touchdown game all season.
Bryant should have more chances now with Elliott back. Life should be easier for Prescott and Co.
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