Marcus Mariota Brilliant as Titans Beat Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans looks to pass in the first half of a football game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 5, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The 2018 Dallas Cowboys are no longer unbeaten at home.

The Tennessee Titans went into AT&T Stadium on Monday and emerged with a 28-14 victory to move to 4-4 and closer to the 6-3 Houston Texans in the AFC South. Dallas dropped to 3-5 overall and 3-1 at home as it slipped further behind 5-3 Washington in the NFC East.

Marcus Mariota led the way for the Titans with 240 passing yards, 32 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, while Dak Prescott countered with 243 passing yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys.

          

Neither Titans Nor Cowboys Are Playoff-Worthy

Monday night games in November often feature some of the league's best teams in marquee showdowns.

Not in Week 9.

Dallas already fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander and is no longer capable of grinding opponents down with an offensive line Football Outsiders ranked 27th in pass protection and 12th in run blocking through eight weeks. 

The fact that wide receiver Amari Cooper could be seen as a savior after he reached the 70-yard mark just twice all last season with the Oakland Raiders is an indictment. Cole Beasley (350 receiving yards) was the only Cowboys wide receiver with more than 200 yards entering play Monday.

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Prescott threw just eight touchdown passes in the first seven games, and the lackluster aerial attack allows opponents to stack the box against Ezekiel Elliott (17 carries for 61 yards).

The Cowboys could have built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter when the Titans fumbled on their first two possessions, but the offensive issues reared their ugly head. Brett Maher missed a field goal after a promising drive stalled, and Prescott forced the issue on a terrible pick in the end zone that kept the Titans down just seven. 

As for Tennessee, its line is the major problem. Football Outsiders ranked it 25th in run blocking and dead last in pass protection. Mariota is mobile and makes plays with his legs, but he is constantly forced to run around when he drops back.

What's more, the rushing attack is a middling 17th in the league in yards per game and has been unable to consistently take the pressure off the quarterback's shoulders.

Mariota is individually talented enough to overcome some of the concerns, especially against poor teams such as the Cowboys. He flashed that talent Monday by escaping pressure, making perfect reads on read-options and fitting throws through tight windows, but it is asking too much of him to do that on a weekly basis with limited game-changers around him. 

The issues for both teams are enough to leave them home come January, and they are both facing crowded playoff pictures.

Dallas is battling Washington and the 4-4 defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East and has to contend with the 6-2 Carolina Panthers, 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings, 4-4 Atlanta Falcons and 4-4 Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card race. Even Aaron Rodgers' 3-4-1 Green Bay Packers are still in the mix.

The Titans are dealing with a Houston team loaded with talent with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas that has won six games in a row and is starting to pull away in the AFC South. Combine that with the 6-2 Los Angeles Chargers, 5-3 Cincinnati Bengals, 5-4 Miami Dolphins and 4-5 Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card race, and the situation is dire.

Tennessee won, but neither will see playoff football this season.

         

Cowboys' Lackluster Scheme Prevents Ezekiel Elliott from Fulfilling Potential

Elliott must watch Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs games with nothing but envy.

While Sean McVay and Andy Reid are offensive geniuses scheming ways to get Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt in space every week, Elliott is stuck running into a brick wall with lackluster creativity against eight- and sometimes nine-man boxes.

The aforementioned offensive line woes have made life difficult on the Ohio State product, but Prescott's shortcomings are the reason Elliott is facing so many defenders at the line of scrimmage on a constant basis. The quarterback has been unable to make defenses pay for focusing so much attention on the run, and his brief success Monday was largely due to cornerback Malcolm Butler's struggles over anything else.

It is a testament to Elliott's head-turning individual ability he still managed to top the century mark in rushing yards in three of the first seven contests, as he is stuck running into predictable gaps against stacked boxes on first down throughout games while the defense adjusts.

Elliott has the talent to be in the discussion with the best running backs in the league. He just doesn't have the necessary situation to fully unlock that talent.

        

Washed-Up Malcolm Butler a Major Liability for Titans' D

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick dominated headlines when he elected to bench Butler during his team's Super Bowl LII loss.

Maybe he knew what he was doing.

The Titans signed Butler to a five-year contract worth more than $61 million with more than $30 million guaranteed this offseason, which is the type of commitment a team makes for a top-notch cornerback who can shadow dangerous receivers.

That has been anything but the case for Tennessee, and his shortcomings were on full display Monday.

Cooper had one touchdown in six games with the Oakland Raiders this season but matched it in two drives with Butler guarding him. Tennessee seized momentum back with a 14-7 lead but quickly lost it when Allen Hurns destroyed the cornerback with a double move for a touchdown right before halftime.

Butler couldn't guard either one of them, which was frankly business as usual:

Butler's contract already looks like an albatross for the Titans, and he is halfway through his first season with the team. This is a squad competing with the likes of Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton and others in the AFC South and can't afford to have such a liability at cornerback.

That is exactly what it has, and it's proved costly throughout the 2018 campaign.

          

What's Next?

Both teams face conference foes in Week 10. The Titans host the New England Patriots and the Cowboys are at the Philadelphia Eagles.

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