Over the past year, the NFL has been dealing with the ongoing case of Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence accusations. This past Friday, the league finally came to a decision and imposed a six game suspension against Elliott consistent with the punishment called for under the league’s new domestic violence policy.
With Elliott likely missing the first six games of the season pending the outcome of the appeals process, the Cowboys will be forced to resort to two veteran running backs that have found success in the NFL in prior years: Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. While both are capable of filling the void in the backfield left by Elliott’s absence, it is clear that individually, neither alone will be able to replace his impact as a blocker, his presence in the passing game, and his ability to accelerate in open space. Elliott’s mere presence on the field is a nuisance for a defense and must always be accounted for. Elliott’s absence however, has given Dallas’ other young star, Dak Prescott, an opportunity to prove himself as a star in this league.
While many were impressed with Prescott’s rookie campaign which included leading the Cowboys to first round bye with a 13-3 record, passing for 3667 yards, and throwing 23 touchdown passes to only 4 interceptions, many are hesitant to crown Prescott as more than a product of the situation he inherited last season. The Cowboys had arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, stacked with three All-Pro offensive linemen. Additionally, he had a multitude of weapons including All-Pro running backEzekiel Elliott in his backfield who led the league in rushing yards last season. Because of all these surrounding weapons available to Prescott, it became difficult to distinguish the various components deserving of credit for the team’s success.
With Elliott now facing a six game suspension and Tyron Smith’s back injury lingering, Prescott has been presented with an opportunity to show his critics that he is able to succeed without his supporting cast. More will be asked of Prescott over the course of the first six games of the season. The offense will run through him and he will be asked to throw more down the field. Prescott will not be able to hide behind a strong running game and offensive line when facing one of the most difficult five game stretches in the league. During their first five games, the Cowboys will face four of the toughest defenses in the NFL: the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Rams. In addition to these four vaunted defenses, the Cowboys face arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. If Prescott is able to succeed against four of the top defenses in the NFL and plays up to the standard he set with his performance in last year’s divisional round matchup against Rodgers again in their week 5 re-match, critics will be forced to back off their statements on Prescott. Prescott is facing much adversity and a successful 6-week span without his backfield running mate in the lineup will show the football world that he is the real deal and is ready to lead the Cowboys for the foreseeable future.
However, with failure, Prescott’s critics will only grow stronger. Cowboys fans will be calling for a Tony Romo return if Prescott’s poor performance leads to a slow start. Prescott will be categorized as a product of a system with talented stars and regardless of his success after the return of Elliott, he will be seen slightly differently by NFL analysts and stars across the league. So while Elliott’s absence is devastating to the Cowboys playoff hopes this season, it may be just the right opportunity for Prescott to make his case before an NFL fan base which, regardless of the outcome, will be rushing to draw their own conclusions.