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It's becoming more and more apparent that it's going to take time for the Dallas Cowboys to develop an offensive identity in life after tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
On Sunday, they hope that begins to happen when the Detroit Lions visit AT&T Stadium.
In order for quarterback Dak Prescott to develop chemistry with new receivers like Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in games, a lot of other things have to go right.
The Dallas offensive line has to keep Prescott from getting sacked five times, like he was last week in Seattle.
The Cowboys have to put themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations to keep opposing defenses from pinning their ears back and coming after the quarterback on third-and-extra-long situations.
But, mostly, it seems, the receivers need to get open and Prescott has to be able to find them and get them the ball.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said he can't single out one of those areas that has hurt the Cowboys the most.
"If there is something that's overarching, you say, 'OK, we've really got to address this,'" Garrett said. "I don't know that that's been the case though. I think it's probably been something here on this play, something there on that play, something here on this other play. And hopefully we can iron those things out and execute better."
It might be death by a thousand paper cuts, but it's still pretty grim for the Cowboys. Through three games, Dallas averages 13.7 points, ranking next-to-last in the NFL.
In the season opener, the Cowboys didn't score in the first three quarters. After an uptick and a 20-13 victory over the New York Giants in Week 2, Dallas gave up three turnovers and fell to Seattle 24-13.
Meanwhile, the Lions have the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL three weeks into the season, but safety Glover Quin isn't reading too much into that ranking yet.
"It's kind of one of those things where we can be proud of it, but on the flip side of it, we got the last-ranked run defense," Quin said. "So if teams don't have to throw the ball then you're probably not going to give up a lot of yards. So we need to continue to have a good pass defense and get that run defense in the top 10, then we can say we're doing something."
After allowing 100-yard rushing games to running backs Isaiah Crowell (10 carries, 102 yards) and Matt Breida (11-138) in season-opening losses to the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers, the Lions finally put together a respectable showing against the run in last week's 26-10 victory over the New England Patriots. The Lions held the Patriots to 89 yards rushing on 19 carries, with much of that production coming with the game out of hand and the Lions in a prevent defense in the fourth quarter.
This week, with a game against Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys looming, the Lions' run defense will get its sternest test yet. Elliott is the NFL's co-leader in rushing yards, and the Cowboys are one of the league's best teams at the stretch zone run, a concept that's given the Lions fits all year.
"Ezekiel Elliott, he's phenomenal," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "This guy's big, he's strong, he's got great balance, he's athletic, he can run powerful. He'll attack the tacklers as they're coming to get him. He's going to take it to them whether it's a stiff arm or just lowering the shoulder. Great vision. He can take the ball, start it front side, come back out the other way, and just is such a dynamic player in that accord. It's very hard to defend."
Prescott has not reached 200 yards passing in a game since mid-December, and with a lack of weapons on the outside, the Lions may be able to commit extra resources to stopping Elliott on Sunday.
"We've got to get the run stopped and make it one-dimensional and then we can hone in on the pass game and try to make it difficult on them," Quinn said.
Updated September 27, 2018