Just how good was Ezekiel Elliott in his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys? To put his league-leading rushing performance into a new perspective, the recent buzz that Zeke could start 2017 with a one or two game suspension has plenty in Cowboys Nation skeptical of this team's ability on offense without Ezekiel Elliott's services.
Yes, these are the same fans that have spent nearly the entire offseason boasting about the dominance the Cowboys' offense could be in store for in 2017 thanks to the progress of not only Elliott but QB Dak Prescott, the offensive line as a unit, and a deep WR pool that added two promising new rookies in Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.
It is okay to be upset for a world of reasons that Dallas may be without one of the NFL's brightest stars to start the season, but reaching for short-terms answers at RB completely loses sight of the fact that the strength of the Cowboys' offense is their strength in numbers.
If called upon, the Cowboys have already shown veteran back Darren McFadden plenty of confidence by re-signing him following a bounce back from injury that saw the team move on from draft pick Darius Jackson to get McFadden onto the roster late in 2016.
In 2015 Darren McFadden of course started ten games - mostly without the luxury of playing with other difference makers around him - and rushed for 1,089 yards.
No combination of Alfred Morris, UDFA hopeful Jahad Thomas, or a sudden increase in spread personnel to account for a potential Zeke absence is the correct answer to how the Cowboys will approach winning games with or without him in 2017.
Darren McFadden confirmed in 2015 (doesn't that season feel forever ago now?!) that the Cowboys could benefit greatly from maximizing the talent in the backfield to fully utilize their dominant offensive line.
Being in a perfect position to draft Ezekiel Elliott was not the move that made the Cowboys' running game what it is, it was the move that made this team strength a legitimate way to win. A capable backup RB is still a vitally important position in Dallas thanks to the volume of carries available overall, and Darren McFadden has been slated into this backup role comfortably for a reason.
A complete back that has fully embraced the career resurrection that America's Team has brought him, McFadden's best trait with the Cowboys is that - on any given down and distance - he does not force the offensive play calling to get away from what they do with Ezekiel Elliott.
McFadden can do everything Zeke Elliott can do to an extent that keeps Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' passing game ahead of schedule. He will hit the correct holes in the line with some burst and finish strong at the second level, occasionally showing off the extra gear to hit on big gains to the outside. DMC can also catch the ball smoothly out of the backfield and turn up field quickly to maximize every reception.
For a team fully expecting to play 18 games between September 10th and February, this role for Darren McFadden was always going to be embraced by the Cowboys and loathed by opposing defenses that will in fact have to deal with Elliott along with McFadden wearing into them for four quarters.
Two capable backs in an offense completely content on running up the miles on any RB's tires is hardly a "luxury", it is something the Dallas Cowboys need and have.
This team's rushing attack will miss a beat in any game they play without Ezekiel Elliott, which is a greater compliment to his abilities entering year two than it is a criticism of the depth behind #21 - a depth chart meticulously built to allow the Dallas Cowboys to do what they do best.
Darren McFadden is going to have a major impact on just how far the Cowboys' offense can take them this season, an offense that is still awaiting anything new on the status of their true bell cow back.
Starters Make Cowboys Serious Contenders, But Depth is a Concern
Playing in the National Football Conference, the Dallas Cowboys have a difficult task ahead of them if they are to be serious Super Bowl contenders. Even still, they've become a very underrated football team due to their 9-7 record last season. The Cowboys struggled in many areas and with the Philadelphia Eagles crowned as Super Bowl Champions, everyone has forgotten about America's Team.
2017 was an awful year for the Cowboys. It seemed like a roller coaster of success, putting up an impressive performance one week only to disappoint the next one. Let's be honest with ourselves here and talk about what really ended the Cowboys' last season.
As much as we talk about how there shouldn't be any excuses in football - the Eagles made a huge statement by winning it all with a backup QB and other key starters missing - we can't deny the impact of these injuries.
Anthony Hitchens, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott all missed some time last year, affecting the team's performance week in and week out. Had the starters been healthy, the truth is this team would've been in the playoffs.
Heading into 2018, the Cowboys will face a very similar situation. This year, starters make Dallas a serious contender. Even if they're playing in a conference that will feature a lot of quality teams, the Cowboys are a team that could beat any team in the league if healthy.
Even the dreaded wide receiver position - which has been famous this offseason for the lack of a #1 receiver - won't be as bad as we make it out to be starter-wise. A starting trio of Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley doesn't really sound bad.
Heck, not even Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods starting at safety is concerning. They have what it takes to be decent starters. Sure, Heath isn't a guy who will make the Pro Bowl, but his skills will show on the field once the season starts in September.
The Cowboys' starters will do just fine this season. If the team's fate is up to them, they are in a very good spot. The same can not be said about depth, though.
Except for the defensive line, every other position lacks depth. If Sean Lee goes down, the linebackers stop looking like a three-headed monster. Same goes for the cornerbacks. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis seem like a good group but as soon as one of them suffers an injury, the Cowboys will be in trouble.
We're in for an exciting season with a lot of young talent waiting to breakout. The Cowboys are underrated this year. They may not be among the NFC's favorites, but they truly have what it takes to replicate the success they had in 2016. However, it seems like circumstances have to be ideal for them to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy.
With a little bit of luck, they'll bounce back this season.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
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