With Ezekiel Elliott Suspended, Cowboys Look to Several Players to Replace His Production

Most of the time, the Dallas Cowboys do a good job of making you think they never look beyond the next practice, meeting or game like their coach would have you believe.

That wasn't the case Thursday afternoon, when it came to Ezekiel Elliott's status.

In small circles and private conversations, several players were either talking about or inquiring about whether Elliott would be available to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I try my best not to pay attention to anything negative," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "I was actually going to send him a little funny picture, 'cause Zeke is my guy. He's everybody's guy."

"That's his situation, and we love him. When we talk to Zeke, it's all positive love over here. As long as Zeke is smiling, that's all we care about," Bryant said.

Bryant went on to say he believed he would be running onto the field with Elliott on Sunday afternoon against Atlanta.

Well, that's not going to happen.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency injunction request by the NFL Players Association on Elliott's behalf, which means the star running back's six-game suspension starts immediately.

The NFLPA's appeal of Thursday's ruling will be heard Dec. 1, which means Elliott will have already served at least four games of the suspension.

He's eligible to return Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Until then, the running game will remain the epicenter of the Cowboys' offense, but Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant should have more prominent roles.

Alfred Morris is expected to start, and Rod Smith will handle third downs. Darren McFadden will have a role, but it will be determined in large part by how effective Morris and Smith are at replacing Elliott's production.

It won't be easy — Elliott is second in the NFL with 783 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He's also caught 19 passes for 210 yards, which means he's responsible for 993 yards — or one-third of the Cowboys' offense this season.

Elliott is also responsible for 45 of the team's 170 first downs this season.

Now, the Cowboys will still bang away with their running game, because that's their identity, but Morris, Smith and McFadden aren't anywhere close to being as dynamic as Elliott.

The Cowboys are hoping that trio is good enough that Prescott doesn't have to throw more than 35 passes a game, because Dallas is 4-5 when that happens.

They are 14-0 when he throws fewer than 35 passes, if you don't count the final game of the 2016 season, when he played one quarter in a loss to Philadelphia.

"The offense isn't going to change," Prescott said recently. "We're going to run the ball."

Without Elliott, Bryant could become a bigger part of the offense, because the Cowboys need someone to provide big plays. Bryant has caught 38 passes for 439 yards and four touchdowns.

It has been 15 games since he had a 100-yard game.

"Zeke is the number-one guy in this offense, and we believe in that monster," Bryant said about five minutes before Elliott's suspension was reinstated Thursday.

"My mindset started changing the year DeMarco (Murray) went off (2014). It is what is. Me, (Jason) Witten, Cole (Beasley). We have more weapons now. It can't just be about me," Bryant continued.

"I don't feel like you can really compare numbers between players, because everybody is in different systems and doing different things for their team," he said.

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