FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have an early season reckoning for why they're having trouble scoring touchdowns from inside the opponent 20-yard line.
One of the plausible theories will be on the other sideline Sunday when the New England Patriots visit in Ezekiel Elliott's much-anticipated homecoming.
The rough-and-tumble Elliott was a short-yardage TD specialist for Dallas even after the production waned from his days as a two-time rushing champion.
The Cowboys (2-1) just lost 28-16 as a double-digit road favorite in Arizona in part because they reached the end zone just once in five trips inside the 20. That was a week after a 30-10 win over the New York Jets overshadowed a 2-of-6 showing in the red zone.
Prescott, new lead back Tony Pollard and the rest of the offense need to show Elliott and the Patriots (1-2) the Cowboys can punch it in without a prototypical power back. Elliott was released in a cost-cutting move in the offseason.
“Even with the win last week, that was the sore spot in the win,” Prescott said. “You look at this loss, moved the ball up and down the field and just couldn’t score. That’s the reason for this loss.”
The Cowboys, whose fast start was surprisingly derailed in the desert, weren't afraid to acknowledge the emotional effect of the midweek loss of star cornerback Trevon Diggs to a season-ending knee injury.
Dallas also played without three starters on the offensive line because of injuries, including six-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin after he injured an ankle against the Jets.
A defense that generated 17 sacks and turnovers combined the first two weeks had just a pair of sacks against the Cardinals.
Dallas never led while committing 13 penalties for 107 yards, and Arizona scored on all five first-half possessions.
“This is the tough part about playing in the National Football League,” said star pass rusher Micah Parsons, who had one of the sacks. “Every team has this day. Last two weeks, we were on fire and today we got lit. You look across the league, it happened to a couple of teams. Reality sets in.”
Pollard had his first 100-yard game since taking over for Elliott, and it was a mostly efficient one with 122 yards on 23 carries (5.3-yard average).
The Cowboys didn't use Pollard much in the red zone until the final drive that ended with an interception from Prescott that essentially sealed the Arizona win.
After getting a first down at the 5, Pollard had consecutive carries of minus-2 yards and 1 yard before Prescott's pick in the end zone.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line needs to get much healthier than it was against the Cardinals. LG Tyler Smith made his season debut after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury.
But his return coincided with C Tyler Biadasz injuring a hamstring in practice before the Arizona game.
Biadasz and Martin were inactive.
LT Tyron Smith was added to the injury report Saturday because of a knee issue. The eight-time Pro Bowler was active but didn't play.
The Cowboys went into last season with a projected starting five of RT Terence Steele, Martin, Biadasz, Tyler Smith and Tyron Smith.
They still haven't played a game with all five of them healthy.
A week after his role seemed to be disappearing, WR Michael Gallup had six catches for 92 yards in his best game since Thanksgiving 2021, about six weeks before he tore a knee ligament.
He's still looking for his first 100-yard game since the injury, but this was a start.
A run defense that has been problematic for the Cowboys the past two years, including in the playoff losses that ended both seasons, was at its worst against the Cardinals.
Arizona QB Joshua Dobbs went 44 yards on a designed run two plays into the game.
Dallas allowed 222 yards rushing, its most in a loss since the defense was historically bad in Mike McCarthy's first season in 2020.
While the Cowboys wait for their projected starting offensive line to play together for the first time, they've had a steady stream of returning players.
S Donovan Wilson played about half the snaps in his season debut against the Cardinals after straining a calf early in training camp.
It was the second game back from CB Jourdan Lewis, who missed most of last season with a broken foot. WR Brandin Cooks returned after missing a game with a knee injury.
10 for 10 — Brandon Aubrey is the first rookie kicker in franchise history to make his first 10 field goals.
Including extra points, Aubrey has made all 16 kicks since missing a PAT on his first NFL kick. The 28-year-old Aubrey took over for Brett Maher, who missed four consecutive PATs in a wild-card win last season.
The Cowboys never could beat Tom Brady's Patriots, losing all five meetings from 2003-19.
They are 8-1 against all New England quarterbacks not named Brady, including a 35-29 overtime victory against Mac Jones and crew two years ago.