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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.


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

5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Sean Martin

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5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.

If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.

Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.

1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons

The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.

In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.

This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor

Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.

The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.

For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.

The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.

Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

3. Revenge Against the Falcons

The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.

Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.

Cowboys en Español: 3

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

4. Running Through December

The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.

This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.

It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.

Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.

5. Thanksgiving Tradition

For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.

The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).

Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.

Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.

Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.

Tell us what you think about "5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring

Jess Haynie

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James Hanna

In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC

Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.

James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.

That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.


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Player News

Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.

There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.

Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.

Bobby Belt on Twitter

Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.

Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.

Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC

Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.

Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.

If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.

The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.

Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.

Tell me what you think about "Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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