Cowboys look to solve road puzzle with trip to Washington
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Well more than half of Dak Prescott’s sacks and all four of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback’s interceptions have come on the road.
There are plenty of other numbers to illustrate the stark contrast between the Cowboys at home and away from AT&T Stadium, starting with the symmetrical records of 3-0 and 0-3.
While a visit to NFC East-leading Washington on Sunday is a chance for at least a tie for first place along with their first winning record this season, the Cowboys would probably view it as a road breakthrough more than anything.
“We’ve talked about it all year,” right guard Zack Martin said. “It’s usually been reversed. We’ve usually been better on the road than we have at home. I think the biggest thing is our communication on the road has not been anywhere near how it’s been at home.”
Communication speaks to the protection issues with Prescott, whose passer rating is more than 40 points lower on the road — 67 compared to 108.
Toss in the NFL’s second-lowest road scoring average (12.3 points per game), and the Cowboys haven’t given themselves much of a chance in losses at Carolina to open the season, followed by Seattle and Houston. They’ve alternated road and home games — and losses and wins — all season.
Dallas has transformed into one of the NFL’s youngest teams over the past couple of seasons, and coach Jason Garrett has mentioned youth a few times when asked about the difficulties away from home. The question is whether it’s the primary reason.
“Possibly, but that’s irrelevant,” Garrett said. “What’s relevant is we have to do a better job of it. At times on the road, when we were all together and communicated well and everybody was on the same page, we executed pretty well. But there are too many examples in each of those games where we didn’t do that.”
While the passing yardage is close to the same, it’s somewhat misleading because the Cowboys struck for big plays early in home wins over the New York Giants and Jacksonville and turned to the running game to protect leads in the second half.
And there’s something to be said for the rushing attack, which the Dallas offense is built around, being reliable on the road. The Cowboys are averaging 119 yards on the ground in the three road defeats.
The only time Ezekiel Elliott, second in the NFL in rushing, was truly shut down was the 19-16 overtime loss to the Texans. He averaged a season-low 2.7 yards per carry, and when he was stuffed on third-and-1 in overtime, Garrett was criticized for punting from the Houston 42-yard line. The Texans drove to the winning field goal.
“That’s our focus this week is going into this game, having great communication and starting fast, putting points on the board,” Elliott said.
The Cowboys are converting less than 25 percent of third downs on the road, which is partly explained by long-yardage situations caused by penalties.
There also have been several instances of silent counts gone awry, with linemen getting slow starts on snaps and causing problems for Prescott. The third-year QB has been sacked 13 times on the road compared to six sacks at home.
“Up front it’s being on the same page with the calls and communicating, whether it be different snap counts or different line calls when it’s real loud, or different signals to different guys,” Martin said. “That’s really what’s killed us the first three road games.”
The Cowboys also had two big changes to their line — one expected and one not. Four-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick is out indefinitely with a nerve disorder and won’t be eligible to play for at least seven more games. Rookie Connor Williams is starting at left guard.
“From Carolina to where we are now, I think we’ve come a long way,” Martin said. “I think guys are getting a lot more comfortable in there. We still have a long way to go. I think we’re making progress week by week and that’s what you want to see.”
NOTES: DE David Irving was limited in practice while still dealing with personal issues. He’s been in a custody battle involving his daughter. ... WR Tavon Austin (groin) and LB Joe Thomas (foot) didn’t practice. Both injuries could be long-term issues. ... LB Sean Lee (hamstring) was limited. The question with the 2016 All-Pro is whether to keep him out a fourth straight game for the extra healing time that goes with the open week after playing the Redskins.