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Cowboys Have Increasing Uncertainty at Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week's Hall of Fame game gave Cowboys fans some good looks at running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, assumed to be competing for the third spot on the RB depth chat. Also, new comments from Jerry Jones have made Ezekiel Elliott's future tougher to predict. Throw in a brief but uninspiring performance from Darren McFadden and we have arguably more confusion now at RB than we did a week ago.

Jerry Jones, Ezekiel Elliott

Jerry Jones and Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Let's start at the top; Ezekiel Elliott's possible suspension has been hanging over the Cowboys all summer. During the Hall of Fame festivities, Jerry Jones commented on Zeke's situation in a concerning way.

"There are a couple of issues that might or might not fall — and that’s going to be up to the league to the decide — under the behavioral guidelines."

It's not the most direct comment ever, which Jerry's rarely are, but it does speak to the likelihood that the league is considering more with Elliott than just the domestic violence allegation. Whether it's the St. Patrick's Day parade shirt-lifting, the trip to the marijuana shop in Seattle, a speeding ticket for 100 mph, or his proximity to whatever happened at that nightclub, Zeke may be headed for a wrist-slapping, preventative disciplinary measure from Roger Goodell.

However, not long after those comments, Jerry went on to say that he did not expect any kind of suspension for Elliott. It's hard to know if that's supportive or even wishful thinking, or just an objective appraisal from the Cowboys owner. Either way, many now think a one or two-game suspension is very possible if Zeke's entire body of work is being considered.

Darren McFadden

RB Darren McFadden

With three carries for a total loss of six yards, Darren McFadden's preseason started with a brief whimper. As we'll get to in a minute, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith had far better success with their carries that night. However, before you go handing McFadden's job to one of them, there are two key points to keep in mind.

McFadden's three carries came at the start of the game when the Cowboys offense looked the most befuddled. The offensive line created nothing for him to use. Also, let's be real; three carries is hardly a solid sample size. One long run can change the way your entire night is perceived, much like how Morris benefited from his 25-yarder. Without it, he had six carries for 17 yards.

It's important to remember that McFadden's value isn't just in carrying the ball. He's an exceptional backfield blocker and receiver, making him an ideal third-down option. With Ezekiel Elliott as the workhorse, McFadden can go in and be more useful in various spots; more of a Swiss Army knife player than Morris. He can even return a kickoff in a pinch.

Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith

Still, there's no denying that Alfred Morris and Rod Smith were the standout running backs in the game. Morris 25-yard run showed both athleticism and power, and on several other carries he did a nice job of reading blocks quickly before hitting the right lane. Both players had to make something out of nothing a few times.

With his 18 carries, Rod Smith got the biggest workload and shined consistently. His final stat line of 64 yards on 18 carries is not a great average, but Smith was clearly doing the best with what second and third-string offensive linemen could give him. He showed good improvisational ability, agility, and also power throughout the night. He even had three catches for 25 yards.

There were already reports that Rod Smith was threatening Morris' roster spot coming out of training camp and this game showed you why. Along with effective running, Rod is a solid special teams player and even has the experience from playing a little fullback last year. He is a more justifiable number-three RB than a guy who doesn't give you all of the extra things. Plus, cutting Morris saves you $1.6 million off the salary cap

~ ~ ~

Obviously, Ezekiel Elliott is the team's workhorse back for whatever number of games he is allowed to play. At this point, there's little reason to think that Darren McFadden will fall out of the number-two spot, let alone off the roster completely. A suspension will likely allow the Cowboys to delay their decision between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith; it is doubtful that will keep four running backs given Zeke's projected workload.

With four games and a lot of practices between now and final cuts, there is plenty of time for assumptions and projections to change. As last week proved, it doesn't take much for us to start rethinking things. The picture may get even murkier before it finally clears up.



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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7 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    I can’t think of any player ever suspended for their “body of work.” And yet that has been discussed. Jerry has been very specific on the issue of domestic violence and having reviewed everything says it doesn’t exist. Now we know sometimes it’s hard to take everything he says at face value. So let’s look at the other issues. First off can we just stop talking about getting ticketed for doing 100 in a 70? Who among the male population hadn’t taken the car out on the freeway and cleaned the pipes out? The difference here is he got caught. Are traffic violations covered under the personal conduct policy? I think not unless it includes other charges not noted. While he was wrong for his behavior on St.Patrick’s Day had that happened in New Orleans on Mardi Gras would we be talking about it. I’m pretty sure Gronk’s wild cruise featured much worse…we just have no photos. And we don’t have a precedent for this so not sure how that will be viewed by the league. The recent nightclub incident was closed after a short investigation due to lack of co-operation. Unless there is any conclusive evidence by the NFL such as a video of Zeke throwing the punch or a large check going from Zeke to the DJ in the days after I’m not sure the NFL is in a position to impose any suspension for that incident. As for the trip to the marina and shop….bad look but suspendable? No record of a purchase made or a failed test so if a citizen can’t walk into a legal place of business then something is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s wise because perception is reality. I just wish whatever is going to happen, happens soon because I’m tired of reading about it. I did notice that Zeke was playing with his phone or something in his lap during JJ’s HOF speech while all other players had all eyes on Jerry. Maybe we should add that to the list.

    • Jess Haynie

      That’s the think with Zeke; you can isolate any of his issues and poke holes in them. But the accumulation of issues and question marks, with the shadow of domestic violence involved, is why he’s now in hotter water than he really should be. It may be harsh, but not really unfair.

      I don’t think he’s going to get suspended, but he needs to start living life with the recognition of how thin the ice has become.

  • Russ_Te

    Fail a drug screen, do a criminal offense, the league has to step in with suspensions to guard the brand.

    For the rest of Elliott’s behavioral issues, suspension should be a last resort. He can be warned & fined first. There is a fine line between preserving the brand and serving as 24/7 chaperone. The NFL needs to avoid the latter IMO. Let the teams deal internally with the stupid stuff a 22-year old does.

    McFadden looked uninspired but you figure that changes for regular season. Besides, why bang him up right now? He & Zeke should get a few reps, give the rest to those battling for a roster spot.

    • Jess Haynie

      I agree that it’s not up to the league to become a surrogate father. Unfortunately for Zeke, the DV accusation paints everything else with a different brush. That’s the reality of being an NFL player in a post-Ray Rice world.

  • John Williams

    One week of the preseason doesn’t change anything for me.

    I would want to continue to see Alfred Morris as an effective back before being willing to keep him on the roster. In my opinion, I think he’s auditioning mostly for other teams. I don’t think he does enough to get rid of McFadden or Smith. If anything they might be forced to carry four running backs and a full back if he continues to play well. But given that they want to feed Zeke, it seems carrying 4 running backs is a luxury. Especially with what Rod smith has been showing in camp so far.

    • Jess Haynie

      What scares me with Morris is that he looked good all of the 2016 preseason and even in some limited touches early in September, but his effectiveness clearly waned over time. McFadden came off NFI list last year and showed way more chemistry in his few touches. It would take a pretty dramatic difference in these next four games for me to feel confident enough about Morris to even question DMC’s job status.

      I think Rod Smith has almost secured a roster spot. Not only does he look good and give you special teams value, but he’s also the only guy who is under contract in 2018. If he keeps this up, he could probably be RB2 next year.

      • John Williams

        Totally agree. I just don’t see them being willing to bring four tail backs to the 53. Just seems that Morris is an odd man out. They might have been a bit hasty signing him in the first place if they intended on drafting Zeke last year. Was a solid insurance policy.

Game Notes

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Redskins

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Redskins 5

Well, here we are again. The Dallas Cowboys lose another close game, but this time it might hurt a little bit more since it was to the division rival the Washington Redskins. This was definitely a game that could've gone either way since neither team played well, but in the end things just happened to go the Redskins way this time.

One or two things going just a little differently for the Cowboys likely would've been enough to secure the victory Sunday afternoon and I'm not even talking about Brett Maher's missed field goal. For instance, what if Quarterback Dak Prescott would've taken the safety instead of fumbling and letting the Redskins defense score a TD. That mistake it definitely hurt!

I could sit here and play the "what if" game with you all day, but we have nearly two weeks to do just that since the Cowboys are now on their bye week. Today, I want to share with you The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from the first of two meetings between these two teams. Enjoy!

The Good

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

In yet another sloppy performance on the road, there was very little good to take away from the first meeting of the 2018 season between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. I think the one thing I will remember the most, in a positive way, from this matchup is Wide Receiver Michael Gallup's long touchdown pass from Quarterback Dak Prescott.

Michael Gallup continues to make plays when given the opportunity. In another offense with a better play caller and maybe even a better QB, Gallup would likely be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but has failed to make much of an impact with the Cowboys so far. Hopefully that will change after the bye week though.

If I'm the Cowboys coaching staff, I'm going to find ways to get Michael Gallup more involved in the passing game coming out off the bye week. Other than Cole Beasley, he is the only one who is having much of an impact and definitely needs to see more targets. I would make that a top priority moving forward.

The Bad

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

There is so much that I could put in this section, but I think the worst thing that happened Sunday afternoon when the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Redskins was the fact that we will have nearly 2 weeks of having to listen and talk about it. For me, that is the bad!

Yes, you read that right. Now that the Cowboys are heading into their bye week, we have two entire weeks to dissect and analyze everything that has gone right or wrong this year, especially what happened against the Redskins since it's the freshest in our minds.

This was definitely a tough loss, and one that could come back and hurt the Cowboys when it comes to playoff seeding at the end of the season. Too many mental mistakes and penalties definitely assisted in the letdown, but in the end they just weren't good enough to win on the road. That's absolutely something that needs to change since they haven't won a road game all season.

The Ugly

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

I'm going to have to go with both the offense and defense for the Dallas Cowboys as the ugly against the Redskins Sunday afternoon. Neither unit really played all that well, even though they both probably played well enough to win the game if just a few things would've gone just a little bit differently.

On the offensive side of the ball the Cowboys couldn't get anything going for nearly the entire game. The Redskins did an excellent job of bottling up Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott couldn't get anything going in the passing game until the fourth quarter. They did have a few big plays called back due to holding penalties, but overall it was a pretty sloppy performance.

Defensively things weren't much better. The Cowboys have been pretty good at stopping the run this season, but for some reason couldn't find an answer of how to stop Adrian Peterson. The defense probably played better than the Cowboys offense, stopping the Redskins in the red zone on several occasions and only giving up one TD, but in the end it just wasn't enough.

What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Redskins?



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Game Notes

WAS 20, DAL 17: Cowboys Make 1 Too Many Mistakes

Kevin Brady

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WAS 20, DAL 17: Cowboys Make 1 Too Many Mistakes

Late in the fourth quarter the Cowboys faced a critical third down, trailing by just 3 points. As they did all night long, the Washington Redskins brought pressure, but quarterback Dak Prescott stood in the pocket this time and delivered a strike to Cole Beasley for a huge first down.

Cowboys fans rejoiced thinking the team might be on their way to a game winning drive. Then, we all noticed the yellow flag on the ground.

Holding, offense number 52.

The very next play Dak Prescott took what was one of the worst sack fumbles you'll ever see in his own end zone, and the Redskins extended their lead to 10 points. As Prescott tends to do, the Cowboys battled back late and got themselves in a position to send the game to overtime if Brett Maher could nail a 47 yard field goal.

Snap infraction.

Snap infraction. Rather than Maher attempting a more make-able 47 yard field goal, he was backed up to 52 yards, where he would miss the game-tying field goal. All of this resulted in an absolutely heartbreaking loss for the now 3-4 Dallas Cowboys, 20-17.

For a Cowboys team that had a chance to take over first place in the NFC East with a win, today's performance is extremely disheartening.

Other Notes

  • DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't been getting the pass rush we hoped to see, but he continued to be an absolute menace against the run today. He ended the game with 7 tackles, 3 of them for loss.
  • Dak Prescott's inconsistencies as a quarterback, the inability of any non-Cole Beasley wide out to beat man coverage, and the regression of the offensive line continued to handcuff the offense today. Their play simply wasn't good enough for most of the game.
  • Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie put together another impressive game, and this defensive back group (mostly the cornerbacks) seems to improve week to week.
  • Sean Lee looked healthy today, and made a key third down stop in the fourth quarter, knocking Alex Smith out of bounds and giving the offense a final chance to win or tie.
  • Ezekiel Elliott and this run game failed the Cowboys today. Elliott had just 34 yards rushing on 15 attempts and the offensive line was dominated all night.
  • The Cowboys have their bye this week before hosting the 3-4 Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.



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Player News

Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases

This week, Stephen Jones discussed the difficulties of making a trade, saying "it just seems like in the NFL trades are hard to make, to make it all come together for two teams".

The two teams that could be lining up to change that are of course Jones' Cowboys as well as John Gruden's Oakland Raiders. Yet another Raiders player has been in the headlines as a trade target, 24-year old Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

WR-needy Cowboys doing their due diligence on Raiders' WR Amari Cooper: https://t.co/pE2wmrzCXu

Playing at the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys will have yet another reshuffled lineup at wide receiver, playing without Tavon Austin. Their biggest offseason addition to this unit was Allen Hurns, and he's been underwhelming with just eight catches.

Thus the Cowboys are reportedly doing their "due diligence" on Cooper, sensing the need for a mid-season acquisition at WR for the right price. The Cowboys ability to potentially find that price in a deal advantageous to them, given how the Raiders handled the departure of Khalil Mack in a trade to this Chicago Bears, is what makes this story relevant.

A lot has been said about Cooper since his name emerged as the latest player potentially out of the Bay Area. Whether you believe he's still an impact receiver with the potential to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016 or one that "doesn't love football," as some have been inclined to say, the former fourth overall pick represents an investment into the WR position that the Cowboys have not made in some time.

In those Pro Bowl seasons, Cooper averaged over 77 catches a season while putting up over 1,000 yards in both. The Raiders have used this to justify their reported asking price of a first-round pick for Cooper, something the Cowboys are not alone in their reluctance to give.

With Cooper, the Raiders are holding onto their last bit of relevancy. A reeling 1-5 football team that needs to maximize their return on trading Cooper, the Colts and Redskins are also following in the Cowboys footsteps by preparing as much as they can on the player.

Cooper has caught 22 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown through six games this season.

For as desperate as the Raiders are to jump-start their organization, the Cowboys should be just as desperate to add a threat like Cooper to their passing attack. Unlike the Raiders, they're in the hunt for a division title, something much harder to put a price on when it comes to the Jones' finalizing any deal for Cooper in the coming days.

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 3 PM Central Time. The Cowboys will be two days into their bye week, not in action again after Sunday until November 5th.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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