With the Dallas Cowboys now starting to learn how to win without Ezekiel Elliott, does that mean domination when Zeke makes his return in Week 16?
Before the 2017 regular season started, the impending six-game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott for suspected domestic violence loomed over the Dallas Cowboys like a dark cloud. Legal wrangling allowed Zeke to play the first eight games of the season. But the fact the team went 5-3 during that span didn’t bode well for the Cowboys future after Elliott’s suspension, which was reinstated just prior to Week 10.
Without Elliott in the backfield, Dallas immediately lost three games. All embarrassing losses. A 27-7 defeat at the hands of the slumping Atlanta Falcons at home in Week 10. A devastating divisional loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, 37-9, that all but guaranteed Philly would win the NFC East crown. And finally, a shocking 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12.
But much like someone learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels, the Cowboys offense has learned how to win without Elliott in the backfield. In the past two weeks, Dallas has posted shaky, but nonetheless impressive victories over their divisional rivals, the 2-11 New York Giants and the 5-8 Washington Redskins.
Now bolstering a winning record at 7-6, the Cowboys only have a matchup with the struggling 6-7 Oakland Raiders ahead of them before the return of Elliott in Week 16. And according to owner and general manager Jerry Jones, quarterback Dak Prescott is now a better player for having learned how to win without having Zeke to lean on.
"“It hurt us to miss Zeke, but as far as Dak is concerned, we’ve got a better player for having gone through this,” Jones told on 105.3 The Fan during a radio interview this week. “I don’t recommend it for the Cowboys of course, but we got a better player. We got a better future because he’s gone through this period of time without Zeke.”"
But will learning how to win without Elliott now lead to utter domination upon his return? Cowboy fans certainly hope so. But also remember, the combination of running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have stepped up big for Dallas in their last two victories.
Against the Redskins in Week 13, Morris racked up 127 rushing yards and a touchdown to aid the team in breaking their three-game losing streak. The following week, Smith posted a combined 160 offensive yards and two scores to help the Cowboys bury the Giants, 30-10.
For the last two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys back-ups have basically been Ezekiel Elliott for this team. So when Zeke does return, don’t expect a huge boost of production out of the backfield. Instead, his presence should create more opportunities for other Dallas players as opposing defenses stack the box attempting to stop the league’s top rushing threat.