If, as some assume, the NFL imposes a short suspension as soon as today on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be livid. For obvious reasons. But Elliott’s absence creates a somewhat non-obvious problem for the Cowboys.
In the first month of each regular season, defenses are routinely ahead of offenses — especially for teams where the offensive lines underwent change. In Dallas, 40 percent of that line is being shuffled around, with La’el Collins sliding to the outside to replace Doug Free at right tackle and guard Ron Leary gone.
So it will take time for the Cowboys to get the offensive line where it eventually will be. And they’ll be facing the Giants and Broncos right out of the gates, teams with potent defenses whose coordinators have had seven months to pick apart quarterback Dak Prescott’s rookie season in search of strategies for stopping him.
Adding to that the potential absence of Ezekiel Elliott, and Prescott could have a mess on his hands to begin his second season, with a work-in-progress wall of blockers and a less-than-optimal running game. Given the way things unfolded for Prescott a year ago, it could be a big deal. As former NFL coach Kevin Gilbride said recently on PFT Live, the dominance of the line allowed Prescott to go through his progressions slowly last year, permitting him to gradually build confidence.
This year, carefully-crafted blitzes and coverages aimed at exploiting flaws in Prescott’s game could change that quickly, with Prescott’s confidence potentially shattering before Elliott gets back on the field.