An Ezekiel Elliott 1-2 games suspension could have a significant impact on who comes out on top of the NFC East.
Zeke “The Freak” Elliott had a highlight reel season in 2016. He was a candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year. He was in the running for league MVP. Elliott was lighting it up on the field. He and fellow rookie Dak Prescott made Tony Romo’s Cowboys somewhat of an afterthought. Cowboys’ fans salivated at an offensive unit that was reminiscent of the days of the Triplets.
On a weekly basis, it seemed like Elliott would have at least one game breaking run that would help his team rack up the W’s. Whether it was moving the chains or jumping into the Salvation Army kettle – The Freak was making headlines.
During this offseason, Elliott has continued to make headlines – but for all the wrong reasons. One of the biggest stars to wear a Star on their helmet is making decisions that could cost him a few games if the NFL decides his antics off the field warrant a punishment.
Elliott’s latest accusation – because that’s all it is now – involved nightclub assault. Although it has been reported the investigation has been suspended, a consequence may be looming.
The problem of Elliott missing games is that an absence in the 1st game of the season means an absence against the New York Football Giants. The Giants have made some major additions to their roster in order to give them the edge over the Cowboys headed into the 2017 season.
But they didn’t need an edge. They beat Dallas last season.
However, they didn’t beat them by much. Both matchups had their controversial moments that defined the outcome. Controversy or not, a one-point win in Week 1 and a three-point win in Week 14 gave Eli Manning’s Giants the sweep.
The Cowboys would finish the season 13-3. Two of the three blemishes on the season for the ‘Boys came at the hands of the G-men.
For Dallas to keep a stranglehold on the NFC East, they will need to have all their weapons at their disposal. And Elliott may be their most powerful weapon.
Against the Giants in Week 1, Elliott scored the teams only touchdown. He would register 51 rushing yards on the Sunday Night Showdown. In the second meeting, Elliott carried the ball four more times and had 56 more yards than the previous meeting. He’d finish the day with 107 yards, but wouldn’t find the end zone.
Elliott’s 3.5 yards per carry against the team doesn’t seem like much. But it is. Anytime Elliott has the ball in his hands he has the potential to take it to the house. He will make defenders pay every time they try to make the tackle – which is not a statistic you read but something the eye can see. He draws attention. He wears down defenders.
The Freak is a factor when he’s on the field.
Youth in Secondary
Dallas’s secondary will have a harder time dealing with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and rookie TE Evan Engram. The unit will have their hands full this fall. They lost Barry Church to Jacksonville, Morris Claiborne to the Jets, JJ Wilcox to the Bucs and Brandon Carr to Baltimore.
That totals to 25 seasons of NFL Experience. That’s a total of 21 interceptions – two of which resulted in touchdowns.
Although drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Marquez White each had their share of commendable plays in College, they will take time to develop and adjust to the speed of the NFL. Their inexperience will show.
Inexperience will lead to miscommunication in coverage – resulting in more big plays, more allowed conversions, and potentially more points. Also, more time on the field equates to fatigue. For rookies, it takes time to be conditioned for the length of the NFL season.
The Cowboys will look to their vets like Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones to mentor and speed along the development of the rookies. Nolan Carrol was added via free agency, but he’s usually on the opposite end of the highlight reel.
The Freak Balances the Scale
So what does this mean? It means the Cowboys need for Elliott to realize the team can’t afford for him to miss any game. They need Zeke to wake up and smell the coffee. He’s an indispensable piece of the offense and defense.
As mentioned above, Elliott can keep the offense moving and on the field – which gives the defense much needed rest. Elliott also knows where the end zone is. Whether he moves the chains or scores touchdowns, he contributes to the offensive point production.
The Cowboys will need points to make up for rookie deficiency in the secondary. A few points could be the difference between being on the wrong side of a close game.
Backups Lack Starter Production
Self-explanatory, right? That’s why they are backups and not starters.
Darren McFadden has 9 years of wear and tear on his legs that resulted in him missing 42 games in his career. Alfred Morris has 4 years less, but he only had 243 total yards last season. A lot of that is related to the production from Elliott.
But that’s what you expect from a running back taken 4th overall. In seven games, The Freak-factor had over 100+ yards on the ground. He ranked 3rd of all running backs with 15 total touchdowns. He led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards. On the field, he was worth the 4th overall pick – easily.
For Dallas Cowboy fans, they prefer to hear the age-old phrase “How ‘bout dem Cowboys?” when the tone of the statement isn’t filled with satire or mockery – which is what always happens any time Dallas is in a negative light in some form or fashion.
If Zeke’s off-field behavior – whether it’s factual or accusations – can’t be controlled, the ‘Boys best back’s decisions could be detrimental to his playing time. Whether it’s done by the league or otherwise.
Is Elliott’s suspension a guarantee? No. But there is still time in the offseason for Zeke to find himself at the wrong place wrong time. For the sake of the season, he needs to lay low. Another off-field incident – even if it just involves his name – will force the league to take a stand. This is not the type of dialogue usually associated with first round selections headed into year two. Unless you play for the Jaguars or Browns.
Elliott does not want to be a 30 for 30 story before he’s 30. With his talent, that would be a heartbreaker.
Who wins the NFC East crown is a 50-50 between the Cowboys-Giants.
The Freak-Factor will be the difference in who wears it.
Stats referenced at nfl.com
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