The Dallas Cowboys were delivered a Jerry World-sized blow on Friday when the NFL announced running back Ezekiel Elliott would be suspended for the first six games of the 2017 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
According to ESPN, the suspension comes as a result of an investigation that started more than a year ago after an ex-girlfriend accused the Cowboys' player of domestic violence in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus City Attorney's office announced in September that it would not pursue charges against Elliott because of "conflicting and inconsistent information," but the NFL has the right to penalize a player even without legal charges.
Elliott is planning to appeal the NFL's decision — but we rarely ever see these rulings overturned. If the NFL chose a six-game suspension, it's fair to assume they launched a thorough investigation and found enough evidence to find Elliott was guilty of at least something.
While most NFL teams losing a running back for the first half of the season wouldn't always be a back-breaker — this could be a season-altering blow for the reigning NFC East champs who are now without one of the best players in the NFL. Elliott finished 2016 with 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, while gaining another 363 yards through the air and a touchdown.
I'm a firm believer in an elite-level RB taking the pressure off the quarterback. Look no further than this stat:
The Cowboys ranked dead last in the NFL (No. 32) in passing percentage last season, with Dak Prescott throwing a mere 51.30 percent of the time. In contrast, Dallas led the NFL in rushing attempts per game (30.8).
It doesn't take a NFL expert to figure this out. While Prescott is obviously talented and there are some other great weapons on the Dallas offense — this is a unit that relies heavily on the running back, particularly Elliott. I'm sure Darren McFadden will fill-in and have some decent production, but he's not Elliott.
Let's predict the Cowboys record over the first six games without Elliott:
Sept. 10 vs. Giants
Like they do in most seasons, the Cowboys will open up against the New York Giants at home on Sept. 10. Elliott had decent production against the G-men last year, but he didn't light up the stat sheet in either meeting. Elliott recorded 51 yards on 20 attempts (2.6 yards per carry) in the first meeting of the year. Not very good.
Elliott rattled off 107 rush yards in the second meeting.
The Giants' are favored by many to win the NFC and its defense is quietly one of the better groups in the NFL. I wasn't convinced Dallas could win this with Elliottt, so now it seems like a major longshot.
Sept. 17 @ Broncos
The Broncos aren't the same team they were when they reached the Super Bowl two years ago, but they are still anchored by a ferocious defense. This game could go either way on a neutral site, but Dallas traveling to Mile High in Week 2? Denver owned the No. 4 total defense in the NFL last season and the No. 5 defense against the run.
Sept. 25 @ Cardinals
Man, this is a brutal opening schedule even if Dallas had Elliott at its disposal. Arizona closed out last season with the No. 2 defense in the league and held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game.
Oct. 1 vs. Rams
While I don't think the Cowboys will have a massive rushing day against arguably the best defensive line in the NFL — I'm not convinced the Rams' offense is even capable of scoring yet — even with Sean McVay taking over. This should be a win for Dallas … which will be much-needed.
Oct. 8 vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers catches the Dallas Cowboys defense off guard resulting in two free plays and an eventual touchdown. pic.twitter.com/pHmSceYxHM
— SotoSports Tv (@SotoSportsTv) January 15, 2017
This is an interesting one — and I don't think the Cowboys will falter because they don't have Elliott. Nothing the Dallas defense has done in the offseason has shown me it will be much-improved from a season ago and Aaron Rodgers & company torched the Cowboys' last year for 355 passing yards and two touchdowns in the critical playoff win. Dallas drops this one with or without Zeke.
Oct. 22 @ 49ers
If the suspension holds up, this will be the final game the Cowboys play without Elliott. San Francisco is in major rebuild mode and there's very little talent on that squad. This should be an easy win for Dallas.