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Do the Cowboys believe they were an Ezekiel Elliott suspension away from the playoffs?

Are the Cowboys living in a denial of sorts?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the offseason now, and changes are happening all around us. Most of the latest involve the fates of several members of the Cowboys coaching staff.

You’ll note that Jason Garrett and his two coordinators, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli, have seemingly been spared as the Cowboys purge their staff. When you go 9-7 and fall flat of your goals, purges happen.

I’ve made the case for Rod Marinelli before, noting that his unit lived up to their end of the bargain most of the time this past season. It is very difficult to understand why the Cowboys are keeping offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, though.

At one point this season Scott Linehan’s offense failed to score in double-digits in three consecutive games. Throughout the storied history of the Dallas Cowboys, including some down seasons, this had never happened before. It was a historic level of ineptitude.

Of course, this stretch of time happened to be three games that the Cowboys were without Ezekiel Elliott, who was forced to serve his six-game suspension beginning with the game on November 12th in Atlanta.

It took Dallas playing those three games to finally field a competent offense, and to their credit they did rebound with three victories, although they were against lowly competition in the Redskins, Giants, and Raiders.

As we watch the Cowboys continue to tinker with their offensive staff, getting rid of essentially all but Scott Linehan is indeed puzzling. If the offense failed to the point that it warrants the moving on of so many staffers, why does Linehan deserve to stay?

The era of Cowboys football that we find ourselves in spans two seasons, 2016 and 2017. Holding on to Scott Linehan might be an indication that the Cowboys believe 2018 will be more like the former as opposed to the latter.

At one point in 2016 the Cowboys topped 400 total offensive yards in eight consecutive games, a feat only ever accomplished by the two greatest offenses to ever live, the 2013 Broncos and 2007 Patriots. Dallas apparently feels they’re closer to that version of themselves than the most recent one.

2016 was Zeke’s rookie season, one in which he led the NFL in rushing. He was a force among forces throughout that year, churning the Cowboys machine to a franchise record-tying 13 wins with plenty of bells and whistles of accolades along the way.

There’s no denying how important Elliott is to this offense, the six games he missed proved that (although Linehan himself neutralized Elliott’s efforts against Seattle). Is it possible that, in all of their discussions, the Cowboys have convinced themselves that’s what the real problem is, not anything to do with them?

Think about it. The maintaining of Scott Linehan is a clear endorsement of his abilities when the season that just played out was a flagrant demerit against them. When in a retrospective mindset the Cowboys might be saying to themselves, “You know, if Zeke hadn’t gotten suspended everything would have been fine,” which would be insane.

Jason Garrett and his staff have had a tendency to overthink simplistic things before, such as the aforementioned non-use of Zeke against the Seahawks. They really could be so deep in belief of who they are, based on who they’ve been before, that they have convinced themselves to a point of denial, and it therefore makes sense to keep Linehan.

This isn’t a matter of great design. It isn’t something that needs to be overthought. Offensively the Cowboys were a disaster in the latter part of 2017, and it’s questionable at the very best that the only person seemingly not paying the consequence for that is the offensive coordinator. It is literally as simple as that the offense is bad and changes need to be made there.

It would seem that the Cowboys are living in denial in this regard, as it is extremely difficult to justify the changes they’re making to their offensive staff given what the offense just did (or rather didn’t do).

Even if it’s true that their plan was picture-perfect as long as Zeke was there, the fact that they were unable to adapt is enough justification on its own to make a move. Look at the Green Bay Packers. They learned that Aaron Rodgers going down and the team being unable to do anything as a result is not okay. Now they’re adjusting. Plenty of teams lost key players in 2017 and still managed to play well, those teams are heading to the playoffs.

Whatever the case may be for the Cowboys, whether they’re living in denial or not, it’s difficult to understand the decisions they’re making these days. Honestly they feel like the ones franchises shouldn’t make that end up being discussed as poor ones a year later when it all fully collapsed.