ATLANTA – The Cowboys' new-look running back committee showed signs of progress in the first game without suspended starter Ezekiel Elliott.
Alfred Morris ran 11 times for 53 yards – a 4.8 average.
Rod Smith, Morris' primary backup, had 3 carries for 14 yards – a 4.7 average.
Unfortunately, symptomatic of the Cowboys' overall struggles in Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, consistency was an issue.
"We got started late in the second half," Morris said. "They did a good job of trying to make us one-dimensional early on in the game. We got behind the chains through some penalties, from just not really getting the run game established."
Indeed, the Cowboys' leading rusher at halftime wasn't Morris, Smith or Darren McFadden, who had one carry for minus-two yards.
It was quarterback Dak Prescott, who spent most of the day running from relentless Falcons pressure – not by design.
Prescott scrambled 4 times for 35 yards in the first half, including an 11-yard touchdown run for the game's opening score. The backs' rushing total at halftime: 8 yards on 7 carries by Morris and Smith.
The Falcons' defense is known for playing eight-man fronts. Sunday, the Cowboys' run game saw the same looks that Elliott, the NFL's second-leading rusher through eight games, has gotten on a weekly basis: a crowded line of scrimmage.
Morris broke through on the opening drive of the second half. He gained 47 yards on 4 carries to put the Cowboys in scoring position at Atlanta's 12-yard line, trailing 17-7.
Then, Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn dropped Prescott for a 7-yard loss – one of Clayborn's six sacks in the game – and the Cowboys ultimately had to settle for a 38-yard field goal try.
Mike Nugent, filling in for kicker Dan Bailey, bounced the kick off the right upright.[embeddedad0]
Next drive, the Falcons scored again to take a commanding 24-7 lead and put the Cowboys in pass-first mode the rest of the way.
"It was a little too late," Morris said, referencing that opening drive of the half. "By then we were already behind on the scoreboard. We didn't even score on that drive, actually. And then after that you have to take it to the air to try to play catch-up and the run game becomes obsolete then."
Elliott began serving his six-game NFL suspension Sunday, and he's set to miss at least the next three games before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals hears his expedited appeal on Dec. 1.
The Cowboys will make do in the meantime.
"We didn't get it done today and I feel like that's my fault," Morris said. "We'll get back to the drawing board and we'll learn from this game."