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Cowboys stars other than Andy Dalton need to step up, starting vs. Cardinals on Yahoo Sports app

Frank Schwab
·4-min read

After Dak Prescott’s injury, Andy Dalton goes under the microscope. That’s what happens for any quarterback. It’s especially true on a team like the Dallas Cowboys.

Prescott might have been a polarizing player to some, but it’s hard to deny the results. Prescott led the NFL with 371.2 passing yards per game, and that includes him missing about a half of last week’s game after his season-ending injury. His career passer rating of 97.3 is fourth all-time. Tom Brady is sixth at 97. Peyton Manning is eighth at 96.5. He’s not easy to replace.

Dalton takes over the starting job with the Cowboys sitting at just 2-3, but that’s good enough for first place in the NFC East. Dallas will try to take its first step forward with Dalton on Monday night when they face the Arizona Cardinals, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.

There will be a million words written and said about how Dalton, the longtime Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, does in Prescott’s place. But the Cowboys’ success the rest of the season rides on more than just their new quarterback.

Can Cowboys rediscover running game?

The identity of the Cowboys has changed over the past few years. Ezekiel Elliott was the foundation of the offense from the moment he was drafted. Dallas has gotten away from that a bit.

Perhaps it’s because the Cowboys have trailed most of the season, but this has become a pass-happy team. That’s why Prescott was on a record pace before his injury. Elliott is averaging a career-low 17.8 carries per game, and his 4.1 yards per carry is tied for a career low.

Dalton, a three-time Pro Bowler, might be the NFL’s best backup quarterback. But a return to the ground game seems to be in order.

“I don’t feel that [Elliott] has been a huge factor so far in these games,” former Cowboys quarterback and Fox analyst Troy Aikman said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I think he’ll become a bigger factor and with that, I think that will help out the offensive line.

“I think Zeke, I think this offense will get back to that, which will help everybody and it will help that defense as well. I know it hasn’t been real pretty up to this point, but I still think the Cowboys are capable of being a contender and being a good football team.”

The Cowboys are still going to pass the ball plenty. You don’t waste Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Dalton is good enough to get them the ball. And the Cowboys, given their injuries, don’t have the offensive line anymore to just line up and smash opponents in the run game.

But if the Cowboys are going to win the division and host a playoff game, it’s on Elliott’s shoulders more than Dalton.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown against the Giants. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown against the Giants. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Cowboys defense has been poor

The Cowboys can only run the ball if they’re not down two or three touchdowns. That means the defense will have to play better.

The problem is the Cowboys defense has not shown any signs of being able to stop anyone. They have given up the most yards in the NFL. Opposing passers have 12 touchdowns and one interception. Dallas can’t stop the run either, allowing the fifth-most rushing yards this season. Even the New York Giants, who are horrible on offense, put up 34 points on Dallas. The Cowboys have given up an average of 40 points over their last four games.

Even with a healthy Prescott, the Cowboys were going to need the defense to play better to get the playoffs. Facing a fast-paced Cardinals offense with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins isn’t the easiest way to turn things around.

Dalton will have to do his job for the Cowboys to improve this season. But others around him need to take even more responsibility for Dallas’ success without Prescott.

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