(Editor's Note: DallasCowboys.com senior writer and pro wrestling aficionado Rob Phillips' new column, "Figure 4," identifies four key statistics each week that impact the Cowboys' on-field performance.)
FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys haven't been in this perilous position since 2015, and under similar circumstances: postseason prospects fading due to three straight decisive losses with key players out or banged up.
Back then, it was Tony Romo missing. Now, it's Ezekiel Elliott, Sean Lee and an offensive line at less than 100 percent.
The team is determined to end this slide, and this week in the stats column we look at how:
1. Scoring Slump
Without Elliott, the engine for their system, the Cowboys still make no excuse for their recent ineptitude on offense. In the history of this franchise, they haven't scored in single digits for three consecutive games.
It's also a first in the NFL this season. Only four teams have scored fewer than 10 points in consecutive games, but not three straight:
- 49ers (23-3 vs. Carolina; 12-9 at Seattle)
- Dolphins (20-6 at Jets; 20-0 vs. New Orleans)
- Ravens (44-7 at Jacksonville; 26-9 vs. Pittsburgh)
- Bengals (20-0 vs. Baltimore; 13-9 vs. Houston)
How do they snap out of it?
"I think the biggest thing we've got to do is eliminate negative plays and create more explosive plays," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
2. Stretching The Field
To Linehan's point, the Cowboys aren't getting enough chunk plays. Their longest run against the Chargers was 9 yards. Yet most observers are pointing to the passing game because Atlanta, Philly and L.A. did an excellent job of preventing anything downfield.
In these three losses, the Cowboys only have three pass plays gaining at least 20 yards (20 in the first eight games).
You can certainly argue defenses are defending Dallas differently without Elliott's home-run ability present. And pass protection has been a factor, too. In the Atlanta game, specifically, Dak Prescott simply had no time to throw. His 14 sacks in 12 quarters are a big part of the negative plays Linehan referenced.
The offense can't consistently sustain drives and score points if they're averaging only 4.1 yards per play like the last three weeks. And Prescott knows he must take better care of the football (eight turnovers in this stretch).
3. Defending The Big Play
Conversely, the Chargers got eight pass plays of 20-plus yards on Thanksgiving, a season-high against Dallas. Four of the eight went for touchdowns. Two of the eight traveled at least 40 yards.
It won't get any easier Thursday night against the Redskins. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is tied for third in the NFL with 45 pass plays of 20-plus yards, trailing only Drew Brees (49) and Tom Brady (46). He's also tied for third with eight plays of 40-plus yards.
The Cowboys held Cousins to four big pass plays in their Oct. 29 win at FedExField. Coming off the Chargers loss, Dallas has created more competition in the secondary this week. More on that below.
4. Chido's Role
Though no announcement from the coaching staff regarding lineup changes, rookie defensive back Chidobe Awuzie may have a chance for more playing time Thursday, and perhaps his largest workload of the season.
Limited by a hamstring injury at times since training camp, Awuzie has only been active for five games. In fact, Awuzie has only been on the field for 57 of 722 defensive snaps this season.
Had he been fully healthy in training camp, Awuzie might have won a starting job. It's been frustrating to sit out. But he's been focused in his rehab with the athletic training staff, and perhaps he can build on these last five games the way DeMarcus Lawrence did in the final seven games of his 2014 rookie season after returning from foot surgery.