The whole Ezekiel Elliott saga may be close to ending. Elliott and the NFLPA lost a ruling for an emergency stay of the suspension today, and that almost assuredly means he will miss the Falcons game on Sunday. There will be an expedited appeal scheduled before another three-judge panel in the Second Circuit court, but that is unlikely to happen before Sunday. If Elliott and the NFLPA lose that one, he is likely out of realistic chances to avoid the suspension.
This leaves Cowboys fans thinking - will the season take a nose dive if Zeke misses significant time?
There was a time where the Cowboys lived and died by the presence of one player - Tony Romo. In 2015, the front office got a big taste of reality of just how nonfunctional they were without their franchise quarterback on the field. The message was heard loud and clear and improvements were made so the team’s success wouldn’t rely on just one player. The team would select the super-talented running back from Ohio State to lock and load a dominant running game that would enable them to impose their will on defenses. They would seek out a viable backup quarterback so that they would never again have to be subjected to the Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel nightmare that threw dirt on the season with each new game. And they would continue to acquire defensive resources that they would hope generate pass rush and create some turnovers.
So how’d they do?
Well, they did so well with the running back selection that in only his second season as a pro, we are now pondering if the Cowboys can survive without him. That’s right - Zeke is now the centerpiece of this offense. He has become the “live and die” guy for this team. It’s no different than before, only the player has changed from one guy to another.
Except it is different now because acquiring Zeke wasn’t the only thing that Jason Garrett and company has done in order to make his team excuse-proof should someone be unavailable. Let’s take a look at some of these modifications.
Quality backup running backs
We all know the Cowboys have two former 1,000 yards rushers on their team to back up Zeke. What we don’t know is just how effective they can be in an expanded role in the running game. We got a glimpse of the three backups in preseason and they all looked pretty darn good (stats courtesy of FOX Sports).
Sure, that was just preseason, but it’s hard not to believe that at least one of these guys will step up and run the ball just fine in Elliott’s absence. This isn’t a Joseph Randle, Christine Michael, and Robert Turbin situation. The current Cowboys backups are a stout squad. Be happy about that.
The other star player on offense
Tony Romo used to be the guy. He’s gone now, but the Cowboys now have two guys - Zeke and Dak Prescott. While Zeke had a great rookie season rushing for 1,631 yards, Prescott was exceptional as well. Prescott would win Rookie of the Year with 28 of the 50 votes. Elliott would get 21 votes. If you do the math, the leaves one vote uncounted for, which makes you wonder what that person was thinking.
Prescott had a great season and the Cowboys would strike gold by finding Romo’s successor in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
Dak Prescott is the first QB in NFL history to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after being drafted outside of the Top 2 rounds— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 5, 2017
With Zeke averaging 150 total scrimmage yards over the last four games, he’s clearly been the bread and butter of this offense. That’s fine and all, but we’re just a couple weeks removed from Prescott having three consecutive games where he had thrown three touchdowns. And he’s also had a rushing touchdown in three of the last four games. Zeke is great, but Dak is pretty fantastic, too.
People have questioned Prescott’s ability from the get-go and are always asking, “Can he do this? Can he do that? What about this other thing?” and the answer is always the same - yes, yes, and yes.
The hardship of the 2015 season not only was a result of terrible quarterback play, but an extra burden was placed on the defense and they couldn’t hold down the fort. The Cowboys were terrible at rushing the quarterback as they finished ranked 27th in the league with only 31 sacks on the year. That is not an issue this season as they are ranked third in sacks; they already have 27 on the season. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, and even Tyrone Crawford - the Cowboys defensive line is getting it done.
In 2015, the Cowboys were also dead last with a -22 turnover differential. They couldn’t protect the ball and they couldn’t take it away. With Prescott very good at limiting costly miscues and a defense on the rise in creating turnovers, the Cowboys are in the positive in turnover differential. The Cowboys didn’t win the turnover battle in any of the first five games of the season, but have won the last two with help from the defense causing three turnovers in each of those games. The Cowboys are tied for first place with 15 forced fumbles for the season.
The Cowboys defense has areas that need improvement, but make no mistake about it - they are a tenacious bunch and they will get after the ball.
Losing Elliott for six games will not be a fun thing. Any time a team loses their star player, it’s going to make things challenging for them. The New York Giants season is all but over after losing Odell Beckham Jr. and the Green Bay Packers are on a downhill spiral after losing Aaron Rodgers. And with the recent injury to Deshaun Watson, you got to expect the Houston Texans’ playoff chances to starting drifting off into purgatory.
But the Cowboys have done an admirable job of putting other pieces in place to withstand a loss of this nature. With Zeke suddenly not around, there are 52 other guys with stars on their helmets that help make this a winning football team.