DENVER – Ezekiel Elliott can't recall, at any level of his football career, gaining as few as eight yards on nine carries.
"Never," the All-Pro running back said.
So much about Sunday's lopsided 42-17 road loss to the Denver Broncos was uncharacteristic for the Cowboys. The most glaring irregularity was a nearly non-existent running game – the foundation of their typically high-powered offense.
Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher as a rookie last year, gained 104 yards in the season-opening win over the New York Giants. He had averaged 108.4 yards in his previous 16 regular-season games and no fewer than 51 – the total in his Cowboys debut last September.
At one point in the third quarter Sunday, Elliott actually had no positive yardage.
"We just couldn't get any movement on the ball and establish the running game," he said. "(The Broncos) are built for third down and getting up and rushing the passer, and they did a good job playing to their strength today."
The problems extended beyond Elliott and the Cowboys' powerful offensive line unable to get a consistent push up front.
The Broncos unleashed their normal aggressive 3-4 defense, crowding the line of scrimmage and playing man-to-man in the secondary. The Cowboys weren't surprised by this strategy. They just couldn't make enough plays in the passing game to back them off.
Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense went three-and-out on the first two drives of the game. At the end of the first half, trailing 21-7, the offense ran eight straight pass plays in two-minute mode to get into range for a 56-yard Dan Bailey field goal.
For the entire game, the Cowboys converted only 3 of 14 third down chances. Too many stalled drives impeded their normally balanced scheme. Prescott threw 50 passes in a game for the first time in his career.
"We had some success outside, but we really need to have some success throwing the ball to get them out of that defense," head coach Jason Garrett said. "We were not able to do that on a consistent basis (and) third downs limited just the number of plays that we had."
Prescott agreed that the offense couldn't establish consistency.
"I just simply didn't make the plays," he said, blaming himself.
Elliott, who has already rushed for at least 100 yards eight times in his young career, is eager to watch the game and make corrections.
"It's frustrating, but it's Week 2," he said. "We had a rough one and we definitely didn't play up to our ability. We just got to go back and watch the film and rebuild. Make sure we are getting better."