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Could Ezekiel Elliott Playing Sunday Hurt Cowboys in the Long Run?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Ezekiel Elliott Learning Things Aren't So Easy In NFL
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott is now confirmed to be playing this Sunday in the Dallas Cowboys' season opener against the New York Giants. It feels like a small victory as the war between Elliott and the NFL league office rages on over his suspension for a domestic violence accusation. However, could the end result be a net loss for the Cowboys?

Unless Elliott is granted his injunction by a federal judge, which we should know within the next few days, then his full six-game suspension would begin starting in Week 2 of the NFL season. That would mean Zeke misses the Cowboys' Week 8 game, which is on the road against Washington (Cowboys have their bye on Week 6).

At home versus the Giants, or on the road versus Washington; which division rivalry game would you rather have Elliott for?

Ezekiel Elliott, Giants

RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

There are many ways to look at this question. Last year, the Cowboys got swept by the Giants but then swept Washington. That alone may sell you on wanting Elliott to help you against New York. Still, whether wins or losses, all of these games were close:

  • Week 1 - Giants 20, Cowboys 19
  • Week 2 - Cowboys 27, Washington 23
  • Week 12 - Cowboys 31, Washington 26
  • Week 14 - Giants 10, Cowboys 7

With only four and five-point wins against Washington, it's arguable that not having Zeke may have swung those games the other way. Washington should be improved on defense this year, adding Zach Brown at middle linebacker and former Cowboy Terrell McClain to their defensive line. An 8-8 team last year, the Cowboys' greatest rival is not going to be a pushover in 2017.

In two games against Washington, Cowboys running backs had 205 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries (4.1 average). In the two games against the Giants, they had 196 yards and one touchdown on 52 carries (3.77 average). It's a difference, but perhaps not as big as you might have assumed. The general perception was that New York handled the Cowboys' offense better than anyone last year, but clearly Washington wasn't far behind.

Another basic element to consider is a home game versus an away game. Being able to dominate time-of-possession and pummel the opposing defense with the run is even more valuable on the road than at home. You can take the excitement, and thus the crowd, out of the game. It's always good to be able to lean on your most reliable strengths in a hostile environment.

Cowboys Blog - Staff Wars: Stay With Run DMC!

RB Darren McFadden versus NY Giants in 2015 (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

The backup running backs also need to be considered. Dallas will be leaning on two veterans, 30-year-old Darren McFadden and 28-year-old Alfred Morris, during Ezekiel Elliott's absence. Common sense says that legs will be fresher in Week One than in Week Eight. Would McFadden be more effective this Sunday against the Giants than seven weeks later in Washington?

Another factor at work is the status of Giants' star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He is still not practicing after an ankle injury two weeks ago and his availability for Week One is in question. If Beckham, the focal point of the Giants offense, misses the game then could the Cowboys have afforded to be without Elliott?

You can take this in a lot of different directions, but clearly it's not as simple as you may have thought initially. Cowboys fans are obviously happy that Zeke will be playing Sunday, hungry for a win against the Giants after those three-straight losses. But they don't hand out Lombardi Trophies, or even NFC East titles, for just those games. The big picture is what really matters.

Cowboys Headlines - 88

RB Alfred Morris celebrates a touchdown against Washington in 2016

One way to look at this is the "bird in hand" argument. Right now, Week 1, we know who's coming to town with these Giants. What's more, there's a chance that Odell Beckham won't be with them. Maybe getting this win right here, right now, will serve us better in the long run.

Who knows what injuries may do by Week 8, and just how good or bad that Washington team may be by mid-October?  Naturally, the same goes for the Cowboys. If Kellen Moore or Cooper Rush are playing in that Week 8 game, who's in at running back might be irrelevant to the outcome.

Hindsight will be the ultimate judge here, but it's still interesting to consider. The possibility that Ezekiel Elliott won't miss a single game in 2017 is still on the table, which would obviously make this a moot discussion. But in a league where a single game can decide a playoff spot or home field advantage, these scenarios and ripple effects are worth looking at.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke

John Williams

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New York Giants are 2-1 Against Cowboys With Ezekiel Elliott

It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?

This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

if you can only pay one it should be

The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?

On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.

To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.

Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.

Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.

As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.

Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.

In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.

Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.

Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.

Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.

Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.

Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.



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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T

The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.

During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.

After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.

This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.

Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!



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REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur

Jess Haynie

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L.P. Ladouceur

L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.

Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e

Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.

Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.

Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.



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