With the unfortunate news regarding Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, can the Dallas Cowboys defense hold up without the benefit of a top notch running game?
My article for today was going to be all about how the Dallas Cowboys were starting to come together and prime themselves for a run.
Instead, the Cowboys will once again have to try and find their running game thanks to an absurd ruling by Judge Katherine Failla. In case you live on Planet Neptune, Dallas’ running back Ezekiel Elliott had his preliminary injunction denied and is now suspended for the next six games.
Since I’m not a lawyer, I’m not going to get into how ridiculous I believe this decision is, despite the mountains of proof in Elliott’s favor. I am, however a professional sport writer, so I’ll stick how to how this decision affects the season.
After the past two weeks, Cowboy fans were feeling good about the direction of this team. The running game found it’s groove again. Elliott ran for almost 300 total yards in back-to-back games. Dallas won both, averaging over 35 points and crushing their opponents by an average of 22 points.
You can definitely expect a drop-off in production on the ground. Alfred Morris is a nice backup to be able to call upon as the next man up. Nice isn’t what this team needs. No, the Dallas Cowboys need a beast like Elliott. Maybe Darren McFadden can be dusted off and provide some juice. Maybe Rod Smith gives us all a shock. Regardless, this has definitely become a running back by committee approach.
That’s not exactly favorable given the next six opponents.
Dallas has four home games versus the Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers and Redskins. Three of those teams have top 15 rush defenses, including the Eagles who are currently the best in the league. The Cowboys go on the road twice, facing the Falcons and Giants. Atlanta owns a borderline top ten run defense as well.
So how do the Dallas Cowboys navigate yet another obstacle in their way towards making the playoffs?
They rely on their defense.
I know how that sounds. I get how impossible that seems given that this defense has already allowed 35, 35 and 42 points. It seems even more absurd with the opposing quarterbacks on deck.
Yet and still, I believe that this defense can provide a big boost to this team and be an integral part of the puzzle.
Consider this. The Dallas Cowboys are 15th against the rush and the pass. Dallas is even in the top half of the league in causing turnovers. They are also fifth in total sacks.
For every bad game they have had, they have produced an equally good game. That’s right, that same team that gave up over 100 points to Denver, the Rams and Green Bay held the Giants, 49ers and Cardinals to 30 points total.
Remember as well that in each of those embarrassing performances, a key defensive figure was missing. In the Denver debacle, Anthony Hitchens was nursing a knee, David Irving was serving a suspension and Tyrone Crawford was playing with one good ankle. The Rams and Packers put up 35 without defensive leader Sean Lee available to the Cowboys.
Over the last two games, however, the Dallas defense has been as close to full strength as possible.
The results speak for themselves.
Two road games. Twenty-nine total points allowed. Neither opponent was able to reach 300 total yards. Nine total sacks. Six forced turnovers and 20.5 tackles for loss.
To put that in perspective, only two teams average under 15 points per game. Only five NFL teams average under 300 yards per game. None of those seven teams are represented by the previous two opponents Dallas has faced.
The fact is that this defense is coming around, possibly at the exact right time. Can the defense hold up during Elliott’s absence? I think it’s entirely possible.
Not only are they playing well, but this Dallas offense is still flush with talent. Dak Prescott is still the quarterback. He still has Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley as passing targets. The offensive line is still one of the, if not the best in the league.
Things undoubtedly just got a lot harder for the Dallas Cowboys. The truth is that this season has never been easy.