Cowboys' Still Searching for Running Game, Identity

The Cowboys have been on a season-long quest to find their offensive identity.

We caught a glimpse of it in the fourth quarter against Green Bay two weeks ago, when Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter and pushed the Cowboys within 73 seconds of a victory.

Elliott had runs of 8, 8, 9, 11 and 25 in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys tweaked their blocking scheme and ran more misdirection plays.

More important, the Cowboys attacked Green Bay's defense between the tackles, where power reigns and speed doesn't matter as much.

It's the only time this season, the Cowboys' running game has looked dominant.

Now, we must see it again Sunday against San Francisco.

That's the only way this team can end its losing two-game streak and start winning games.

"I think we were definitely in a groove," Elliott said, "That's the closest we looked like to last year. I think it's good that we finally kind of hit that stride.

"We just finally came out there and executed. We played to our ability. That's all that it came down to."

Understand, just because the Cowboys finally found some success running the ball against the Packers doesn't automatically mean they'll find it against San Francisco.

Elliott, who led the NFL in yards (1,631) and carries (322) last season, gashed San Francisco for 138 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown last season. This time a year ago, Elliott had 546 yards rushing, a 5.0 average and five touchdowns; this year, he has 393 yards, a 3.7 average, and two touchdowns.

He's been a step above pedestrian much of this season for a variety of reasons whether you blame the burden of fighting the NFL, which has been trying to suspend him weeks or having to replace right tackle Doug Free (retirement) and left guard Ron Leary (free agency).

Bottom line: while he has four games with at least 80 yards, including two 100-yard games, he hasn't been the dominant game-breaking runner we saw much of last year.

He'll get an opportunity to be that guy against San Francisco.

The 49ers allow 112.8 yards per game, but only 3.4 per carry. Los Angeles' Todd Gurley is the only runner to gain more than 100 yards against San Francisco, but the 49ers have allowed at least 126 yards rushing in four of six games.

"You have to earn it every week," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Certainly, we feel good about how we ran the ball late in that game. That is a positive thing for our team, but you have to go back to work. You have to go back on the practice field and earn it, and earn it with your performance on Sunday."

They must because when the Cowboys have a dominant running game, they can compete with any team in the NFL.

That's because Dak Prescott can use play-action passes to create big plays in the passing game as linebackers and safeties cheat and overreact to the threat of Elliott.

Play-caller Scott Linehan can limit the number of times Prescott throws.

It's no coincidence Dallas is 4-5 when he throws more than 36 passes and 11-0 when he throws fewer than 36. A strong running game also keeps the Cowboys' defense off the field, which means it's not exposed and its fresh in the fourth quarter.

The courts gave the Cowboys a reprieve when Elliott won a temporary injunction that probably keeps him on the field for at least another two games.

They must take advantage of his presence by re-claiming their identity and running over San Francisco.

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