Ezekiel Elliott, already bracing for a short suspension, is once again in the headlines this morning for a late-night incident at a Dallas bar. Details are still coming in about the altercation and while jumping to conclusions is irresponsible, it’s reasonable to assume this latest incident could further jeopardize his availability. Even if it doesn’t, he figures to miss some time.
Elliott rushed for an NFL-leading 1,631 yards in his rookie season and was the focal point of a fierce Dallas Cowboys offense that ripped through the regular-season with a 13-3 record before falling to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. The running back was a workhorse, amassing 322 carries while catching 32 passes out of the backfield and scoring 16 touchdowns. Fair or not, he lost out on Rookie of the Year honors to his backfield mate, Dak Prescott, who was also brilliant.
The rookie quarterback wasted no time capitalizing on Tony Romo’s injury, playing so well he forced the organization’s hand and essentially nudged the longtime Pro Bowler into the broadcasting booth. With that particular controversy out of the way, it seemed the Cowboys were steaming toward the 2017 season with one less distraction on their script, which often times resembles that of a hacky soap opera.
Distraction is a term that gets thrown around a lot and without a universally accepted definition. But Elliott’s offseason behavior certainly qualifies. More importantly, it figures to have real-world impact with a suspension — however long in duration.
One consequence? We’ll find out early on if Prescott’s stellar opening campaign was the exception or the norm. It’s fair to say that his efficiency (23 TDs, 4 INT and a 67.8 completion percentage) was aided by Elliott’s willingness to carry the ball and carry it often. Backup Alfred Morris is a capable back but in no way as explosive as the man he’s replacing. The Cowboys offense will be different and likely more pass-heavy.
Now, there’s nothing suggesting Prescott is not capable of winging it around more often and succeeding on longer third downs. All on-field indications are that he’s a competent and intelligent passer with a firm grasp of opposing defenses. That said, no quarterback looks forward to losing their security blanket.
Vegas was already predicting a significant regression for the Cowboys with an over-under of 9.5 wins, thanks to a first-place schedule and the relative decency found within the division. The current uncertainty surrounding Elliott may prove to be over-exaggerated when all the facts come out, but for now it feels like Dallas is facing an uphill climb to replicate the magic captured last year.
Elliott, for his part, does not seem like a flash in the pan and can be counted on to be a monster when he is able to suit up and find the holes only the Cowboys’ great offensive line can provide.
Prescott’s uncertainty is different but no less compelling. Time will tell how much these two need each other. What’s clear now is that they better together.