Ezekiel Elliott's Suspension Means Opportunity for Others

Jason Garrett's most pressing concern is no longer whether the players will kneel or stand for the national anthem, drawing the ire or praise of owner Jerry Jones.

Garrett must figure out how to win games without his most valuable player: Ezekiel Elliott.

In a 2-1 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans granted the league's emergency request to rescind an injunction and ordered a district court in Texas to dismiss Elliott's case.

The NFL announced Elliott's six-game suspension was effective immediately, though additional appeals are possible and the Cowboys don't play this weekend.

The Cowboys have a bye Sunday and won't play again until Oct. 22, at San Francisco unless Elliott's lawyer's find a way to keep him on the field.

He won't return until the Cowboys play Washington Nov. 30.

Now, the Cowboys must cobble together an effective running game — something they struggled to do with Elliott — and try to stay in playoff contention until their star runner comes back.

Good luck with all that.

Seriously, raise your hand, if you think that's going to happen.

Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards and 322 carries last season, hasn't dominated like he did last season. Sure, he's had four games of at least 80 yards and two 100-yard games, but he hasn't been the same kind of dynamic player.

We know it. We see it.

He ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 393 yards but is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.

This from a dude who averaged 5.3 yards per  carry last season.

Still, Elliott's suspension comes at an awful time for the Cowboys.

He's coming off a season-high 29 carries and 116 yards in a 35-31 loss to Green Bay. He had only 31 yards through three quarters but gained 85 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter.

It was the first time the Cowboys running game resembled last season's dominating attack.

With Elliott gone, the running game will fall on veterans Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. Morris has eight carries for 87 yards — 70 came on one carry against the Rams — and McFadden has been inactive for every game.

Perhaps, Rod Smith will help too.

Two years ago, McFadden finished fourth in the NFL with 1,089 yards as the Cowboys' primary runner. Morris has had three 1,000-yard seasons, but none since 2014.

Each is serviceable but neither brings the threat of domination like Elliott. Neither will command the respect of defensive coordinators, which means teams will use more defensive backs in coverage, so there will be more complex defenses for Dak Prescott to decipher.

The problem for the Cowboys is their 2-3 record, which leaves them little wriggle room to make the playoffs.

Making the playoffs is a numbers game. Ten wins usually guarantees a playoff spot and nine wins puts teams in the conversation.

If the Cowboys want to remain in playoff contention without Elliott, then they need to go at least 3-3 without him. That would put the Cowboys at 5-6 heading into the last five games.

Go 4-1 and the Cowboys might be able to earn a wild card spot.

That's going to be a difficult proposition with home games against Kansas City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles Chargers and road games against San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta.

Based on what we've seen from the Cowboys 2-4 is realistic, which would make them 4-7 when Elliott returns.

Dallas would probably need five straight wins to make the playoffs.

The Cowboys trip to Washington is probably the swing game because Dallas has won 6 of 8 games in Washington. And if the secondary can hold up against Washington's vertical passing game then they have a shot to win.

The reality, though, is playing without Elliott puts pressure on every other player on the roster to perform at a higher level.

Otherwise, the Cowboys streak of 20 years without consecutive 10-win seasons will get extended by one.

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