ASHBURN — In preparation for Thursday’s rematch with the Dallas Cowboys, Redskins linebacker Zach Brown said he won’t watch the film from Washington’s 33-19 loss in Week 8 — or anything before Week 10.
For Brown, the reason why is clear. The Cowboys haven’t been the same without running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott is in the middle of a six-game suspension stemming from a 2015 incident in which he was accused of domestic violence against his then-girlfriend. After a lengthy battle with the NFL, the running back withdrew his appeal Nov. 15 after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an NFLPA request for an injunction.
Elliott isn’t eligible to come back until Dec. 24, and in his absence, the Cowboys offense has taken a nosedive. Without Elliott, the Cowboys are averaging 99.3 rushing yards per game — compared to the 148.1 yards per game with him.
And it’s not just the run game suffering. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown five interceptions and has zero touchdowns in the three games since Elliott’s suspension.
After three straight losses, the Cowboys are now 5-6.
“It’s a big difference (without Elliott),” Brown said. “That guy, he’s a big part of their team. He’s a very good running back. Instead of three-yard, five-yard runs, with Zeke, he’s got the speed to pop it and go to the house. With Alfred Morris, it’s more stiff. He’s not going to see the cuts like Zeke sees the cut.
“(Morris) can still make the cuts, but it might take him some time.”
Brown said teams are doing a better job of forcing the Cowboys into passing situations.
While Prescott has thrown the ball less since Elliott was suspended, his production has fallen off significantly. Over the last three games, Prescott’s yards gained per attempt (Y/A) are just 5.6 — down from the 6.9 yards gained per attempt in his first eight games of the season.
Or a simpler way to put it: Prescott goes from playing like Cam Newton (6.9 Y/A, ranked 21st in the league) to Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer (5.8 Y/A, ranked 34th in the NFL, which is second to last.)
“We haven’t done a real good job job of [making up for Elliott’s suspension] these last few weeks,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We just have got to continue to work hard to get back on track and be an efficient offense — one that can productive and score points in his absence.”
The Cowboys’ struggles can’t all be attributed to Elliott’s suspension. All-pro left tackle Tyron Smith missed two straight games with a groin injury and was still gimpy Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers. Linebacker Sean Lee has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play against Washington.
But Elliott added stability to the Cowboys offense as an elite playmaker. He still ranks sixth in rushing yards despite having missed three games.
The Redskins know how dangerous Elliott can be, too. In the first meeting between the teams, Elliott ran for a season-high 150 yards. Last year, the Cowboys running back rushed for 83 yards and then 97 yards on Thanksgiving.
Elliott also has five touchdowns against the Redskins — the most against any team in his two-year career.
In Elliott’s absence, the Cowboys have used Morris and rookie Rod Smith as their running backs. Dallas waived veteran Darren McFadden this week in order to clear up their rotation.
Redskins defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said the Redskins have to be prepared no matter who is running the ball.
“We’ve got to prepare and be ready come Thursday because their back is against the wall just like ours at 5-6,” Hood said. “We’ve got to go out there and give everything we’ve got.”