Oct. 12-- Now that a federal appeals court has finally granted the NFL its biggest wish, and Ezekiel Elliott will be ineligible through Thanksgiving, barring further appeals, the only question left is whether we'll be able to tell the difference.
Because it's not likely his absence would ruin the prospects of a team off to a 2-3 start.
First of all, if you thought it was going to come to any conclusion other than this, you haven't been listening. This is Roger Goodell's league, and he's within his rights to enforce NFL rules. The NFL Players Association has agreed to them, to its everlasting regret.
Sooner or later, Elliott is going to sit out. Maybe not a full six games, but a considerable suspension, nonetheless. This season or next, an involuntary hiatus is as sure as Aaron Rodgers roaring down the Cowboys' throats.
Only a couple of months ago, the prospects of life without Zeke struck fear in the hearts of Cowboys fans dreaming of Super Bowls for the first time in decades. And why not? They'd made a pretty nice run last season behind a spectacular pair of rookies, the likes of which we hadn't seen around here in generations.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to Minneapolis: The Wiz Kids lost some of their sparkle, or most of it, actually, and the result has been less than inspiring.
Not that it's necessarily been either Dak Prescott's fault or Zeke's. A silly theory early on advanced the theory that Elliott had lost a step. Now, exactly how a running back of his caliber loses a step at 22, without any evidence of injury, is beyond me. What fans were noticing instead of a loss of speed was a lack of conviction.
And if Elliott isn't running as hard as he did as a rookie, there might be a couple of good reasons. He's probably got other things on his mind, and it's hard to hit a hole where it isn't.
One of Elliott's gifts is that he's a patient runner, meaning he allows time for the play to develop in front of him. Once it does, his other gifts kick in.
The problem is, how many times have you seen an opponent's defense parted by the world's best offensive line?
Jason Garrett tells us that teams come loaded to stop the Cowboys' running game this season, and I have no doubt. But it seems to me they had the same idea last season, too, and it made no difference.
The offensive line simply hasn't performed as well. Now, is that because Ron Leary blocks for Trevor Siemian these days and Doug Free is whittling on his front porch? Could be. A good offensive line is all about communication and cohesiveness, and it helps considerably if you pack it with three first-round picks.
Maybe it's just going to take a few games to jell. If they can do that without Elliott, well, we'll know they've reclaimed their title.
On the other hand, maybe the simplest answer to the problems on offense is play-calling. Scott Linehan opened up the playbook last week against Green Bay, and it paid dividends. Dak found receivers open all over the field for the first time this season. The success eventually seemed to open up the running game, which the Cowboys used to eat up the clock right up to the moment they stopped it on an incomplete pass to Dez Bryant, thus affording Rodgers ample time to cut out their hearts once again.
Critics of this line of thinking have said we're going light on the Cowboys' defense, which should have stopped Green Bay. A fair point, too. Except that's not how the Cowboys are built. Jerry Jones spent his money on offense, not defense, with the idea that they'd play keep-away.
If you'll recall, they did that a couple of years ago with a running back, Darren McFadden, who hasn't even been allowed to suit up this season. He's no Zeke, and neither is Alfred Morris. But they're both good enough if everybody does their jobs.
And if they don't, well, it won't matter who's taking handoffs. This team won't go anywhere but fishing.
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