Even with Ezekiel Elliot suspended, the Cowboys will still make the playoffs.
Ezekiel Elliott’s six game suspension has finally been upheld and will begin this weekend. Clearly when you lose a player who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie and is second thus far this season, it will have a huge impact on the Dallas Cowboys playoff hopes. With a 5-3 record, they sit sixth in the NFC playoff picture going into Week 10.
They were in prime position to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, but now that they will be without Elliott, there are going to be many doubters about them going forward. If this happened to the Cowboys last year they would’ve struggled mightily, but this year their team is much different. They will be able to tread water without Elliott and still make the playoffs when he returns.
One of the main reasons this year’s Cowboys are more equipped to survive without Elliott is their defense. They have improved greatly from last year, giving up nearly 20 total yards less per game. Their pass rush has been significantly better this year. Led by the return of David Irving and defensive player of the year candidate Demarcus Lawrence, their sack totals are up to third in the league compared to 13th last year.
The votes are in…— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 3, 2017
DeMarcus Lawrence is your mid-season Defensive Player of the Year, as voted on by the NFL on Fox fans. pic.twitter.com/U5eLrnojSO
With three new starters in the secondary, Dallas has improved from 26th against the pass last season, to 16th thus far this season. Additionally, they’re taking the ball away at a slightly higher rate than last year. They finished with 20 takeaways, good for 19th in the league last year, but this year they are on pace for 22 takeaways and are currently in the top half of league in that regard. They have the potential to build further on this success because they have one of the youngest defenses in the NFL.
Pair the improving defense with Dak Prescott, who has been just as good, if not better in his second season. His 16 passing touchdowns are good for 5th in the NFL. His attempts per game are up by nearly four, so they are asking him to do a lot more this season. Prescott has shown he can handle more of the offense on his shoulders, so they can lean on him during Elliott’s suspension.
No second season slump here pic.twitter.com/6MXWmvhax1— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 26, 2017
While Elliott is out he will be replaced by Alfred Morris according to Jerry Jones. Morris has run the ball well in limited action, but he isn’t nearly the player that Elliott is. However, the offensive line should be able to compensate for that. Although they aren’t as dominant as last year, they are still ranked in the top half of the league by Pro Football Focus. Darren McFadden and Rod Smith could also get some work behind this o-line. McFadden showed two seasons ago that he can run well in Dallas when he totaled over 1,000 rushing yards. The Cowboys offense is in good hands with Prescott and this line leading the way for the next six games.
Cowboys Schedule During Elliot’s Suspension
|Week 10 - @ Atlanta||4-4|
|Week 11 - Philadelphia||8-1|
|Week 12 - L.A. Chargers||3-5|
|Week 13 - Washington||4-4|
|Week 14 - @ New York Giants||1-7|
|Week 15 - @ Oakland||4-5|
Although they have the third most difficult remaining schedule in the NFC, the games during Elliott’s suspension are actually quite manageable. It starts tough with a game this weekend at Atlanta, who is playing for their season because a loss puts them out of playoff contention, followed by a home Sunday night game against 8-1 Philadelphia.
However, after those two games, they should be able to win out. Home for the Chargers and Redskins are no gimmes, but they will be favored and should be able to rely on their pass rush and one or two big plays from Prescott to win. Those games are followed by road contests against a horrendous Giants team and an inconsistent Raiders club.
The Cowboys should be very grateful that they don’t play Seattle during Elliott’s suspension and only play Philadelphia once. The Seahawks have an even more difficult schedule than the Cowboys down the stretch, so Dallas should be able to keep pace with them while Elliott is out. This gives them the chance in Week 16 to gain the upper hand on the Seahawks in a potential wild card elimination game, as well as playing the Eagles in Week 17 when they might have already locked up home field advantage.
It’s unrealistic to expect Dallas to win the NFC East now, especially because the Eagles could potentially have a three or even four game lead in the division with a win in Dallas following their bye, but the Cowboys will still make the playoffs and might even make a run with a fresh Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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