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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.

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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.

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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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14 Comments
  • George_Johnson

    I like your analysis. However since Dallas struggled to beat the Giants last year and the Giants defense seemed to have Dallas’s number, I think it is best to beat the Giants now and with Zeke and a home game this is more likely.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

      I agree. I’d rather go Zeke-less for the Skins than NYG. Of course, I’d also like to see decent play calling from Linehan against NYG this year; he was terrible last year.

    • Jess Haynie

      You can really go either way on this one, depending on how you feel about the variety of factors. No wrong answer.

  • Ethan Chazin

    Jess, I will concur with other comments about giants defense, and add they will/should be a TOP 5 D. I want Zeke playing against them, they beat us 2/2 and I don’t care @ OBJ’s availability I still fear their other WRs esp as we have so little depth at CB with our hammy constricted rookie DBs. The Giants are favored to win the Division or come in 2nd so they are the Cowboys most serious threat. Plus by the Redskins week 8 game we get Irving and Moore back from suspension and Hitchens might be back.

    • Jess Haynie

      All great points, Ethan, especially about our young secondary. I’m also nervous about them this Sunday, especially now that it looks like OBJ will be playing.

  • Assassin

    A lawyer friend of mine was in the courtroom yesterday. He predicts, based on the Judges reactions and comments, that Zeke will get the TRO and with appeals will play the entire year.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

      Similar to Tom Brady’s case over #DeflateGate. 2017 may not be a concern for Zeke.

  • Randy Martin

    It will be a moot question come Friday!

  • Sam Lane

    Can’t control the future, but can control the now. Playing Zeke whenever possible is common sense, unless the game has no consequence towards playoffs.

    • Jess Haynie

      Definitely one good, simple way to look at it. Sometimes those are the best answers.

  • Corey

    I think this whole mess is B.S. Whatever happened to you had a right to face your accuser? I noticed that this arbitrator didn’t allow that to happen. The NFL and Goodell have just kind of ignored the fact that this woman is a fruit cake. You can’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth, and it is a known fact that she plotted to get him into trouble. Zeke had to put a restraining order on her to keep her away. This nut-job is stalker material. But of course Goodell and the NFL have just looked the other way on all of that. Goodell needs to go. He sucks as commissioner. His policies are all over the place. Elliott made some not so intelligent decisions and Goodell targeted him to make an example out of him.

    • Jess Haynie

      It is hard to understand the league’s attitude in this matter. While I certainly don’t want to advocate blaming the victim, blindly believing is perhaps even more dangerous. The league is sending the message that you can cause a whole lot of a hell for their players with nothing more than an accusation; zero burden of proof.

  • John Williams

    I’m on board with your rationale, but I need Dallas and Dak to get the Giant monkey off their back this week so we can go ahead and put that narrative to bed.

    The Skins defense doesn’t scare me as much and I think the Dallas D actually matches up well with their offense sans Garcon, DeSean Jackson. Pryor and Reed will still be a lot to handle, and Crowder is tough, but they aren’t those other guys.

    • Jess Haynie

      No argument here. I was more just presenting a different possible perspective than my personal viewpoint. I want the Giants to go down hard.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

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Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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