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3 & Out: Championship Recipe; Red Zone; More


FRISCO, Texas – Three topics this week with the NFC East title (once again) within reach this Sunday:

Why are the Cowboys seeing red?

What makes a championship team?

Is Ezekiel Elliott somehow underrated?

Let's get started.

I Know…

the red zone is normally a Cowboys-friendly zone.

That's part of what makes this year's inconsistencies so surprising. Here's how the Cowboys stack up scoring touchdowns inside the 20 in the Dak-Zeke era:

2016: 66.7 percent (ranked 3rd)

2017: 59.6 percent (ranked 6th; and that included six games without Elliott due to suspension)

2018: 44.2 percent (ranked 31st)

And goal-to-go situations:

2016: 82.9 percent (ranked 5th)

2017: 74.1 percent (ranked 12th; again, with no Zeke for six games)

2018: 47.6 percent (ranked 32nd)

What's the reason for such a sharp dip?

As head coach Jason Garrett said, there's no single reason. Execution is one. Prescott's pass to fullback Jamize Olawale should have been a touchdown last Sunday. And his pass to Noah Brown against Washington, and his pass to Cole Beasley against Atlanta.

There have been minus plays (penalties, runs and sacks). There have been moving pieces on the offensive line. Two red zone safety valves, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, are no longer on the roster.

"We all look at ourselves and it starts with coaching," Garrett said. "We have to make sure that we put them in great position and then we have to execute. Minimizing the bad plays, the negative plays certainly helps your execution down there."

I Think…

the edict about offense ruling the league was a little premature.

A month ago, the football world knee-jerked after Rams-Chiefs exploded for 105 combined points in an inter-conference showdown. Yes, rule changes have tilted toward offense-friendly. No, we're not playing flag football now.

The high-flying Saints have scored in the low teens twice in their last three games – once courtesy of your Dallas Cowboys. The dynamic Rams have averaged only 24 points in two straight losses.

Last Sunday's loss aside, the Cowboys have proven to be a top defense this season. We just discussed above how the offense must finish drives if they plan on clinching this division and making a playoff run.

Reality is, the teams that go furthest still do both things well.

This morning I jumped down the rabbit hole researching recent Super Bowl champions. Four of the last five – the Eagles (2017), Patriots (2016, 2014) and Seahawks (2013) – all ranked top 10 in scoring, averaging at least 26.1 points per game. Only the 2015 Denver Broncos ranked outside the top 10 at 22.2 points per game, and they statistically had the best defense that year.

The other four champs from 2013-17? They all were top-10 scoring defenses, too, allowing under 20 points per game.

This year's Cowboys defense checks in at No. 4 (19.2), and even though they pointed the finger at themselves after Sunday's loss, 23 points is a manageable total for the Dallas offense to overcome.

"When the defense holds a team like that, an offense like that to 23 points, I put it on me, I put it on this whole offense," Prescott said. "We've got to go win the game, then, regardless of whatever happens."

I Have No Idea…

why Elliott doesn't get more credit as a 'complete back.'

Sure, he's viewed as a versatile player, and he's closing in on his second NFL rushing title in three years. But when discussing the most complete running backs in the league, I seem to hear talking heads mention Gurley, Kamara, McCaffrey first.

All great players. But did you know Elliott is on the verge of making the most catches by a Cowboys running back in a season?

He leads all Cowboys players with 72 with two games left. Only Herschel Walker (76 in 1986) has more. Emmitt Smith's career high was 62 in 1995.

Here's the other Cowboys running backs who led their team in receiving:

Richie Anderson (69 in 2003)

Herschel Walker (76 in 1986)

Ron Springs (73 in 1983)

Preston Pearson (47 in 1978)

Calvin Hill (32 in 1973; 43 in 1972)

Walt Garrison (40 in 1971)