They have to go forward and try to defend their NFC East title without the player most responsible for their 2016 success. That’s difficult.
First, let’s take a look at Dallas’ schedule early in the season. Keep in mind that Elliott has three days to appeal, and it’s common for suspensions to be reduced on appeal. But if we assume right now Elliott will miss the first six games, the Cowboys’ road will not be easy:
The 49ers and Rams games look manageable without Elliott, but the other four are tough. The Giants, Broncos and Cardinals have top-five NFL defenses and the Packers are considered one of the best teams in the NFC. If the Cowboys can get out of that stretch 3-3, it’s not too bad. Then again, Dallas lost three games all last regular season.
The thought that anyone can have success behind Dallas’ offensive line will be tested. Darren McFadden is next in line. McFadden has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his two Cowboys seasons. He had a 1,089-yard season in 2015, before Elliott arrived. McFadden also turns 30 later this month and has a long injury history. Alfred Morris, who seemed to be on the roster bubble, seems like a decent bet to make the team as tailback depth now.
While we can analyze the schedule and wonder about the next running backs in line, one player will probably determine how Dallas survives this stretch without Elliott: quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott had a fine rookie season, and won the NFL offensive rookie of the year award, barely beating Elliott. He’ll need to go from a supporting piece in a run-first offense to the focal point. He has shown the ability to carry the offense when asked – look back at his fantastic performance against the Packers in last season’s playoffs – but he’ll have more responsibility without Elliott there to hand off to.
This will be a strong test for Prescott, and whether he can have the same type of success he had in 2016 without Elliott alongside him. It’s a lot of pressure for the second-year quarterback.
With Friday’s news, the Cowboys’ road to another division title got tougher. We’ll see what the Cowboys look like when Elliott is allowed to come back to work. A lot of that will be determined by how Prescott plays in his absence.
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