Dallas Cowboys equipped to survive Ezekiel Elliott's suspension on the field

Jay Asser 12/08/2017
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Shelved: Ezekiel Elliott. Picture: Getty Images.

As it stands, Ezekiel Elliott is set to miss the first six games of the Dallas Cowboys’ season. While an appeal may bring that number down, Dallas have to prepare for his extended absence to open the year.

Elliott may be one of the best running backs in the league and certainly one of the Cowboys’ best players, but Dallas are equipped to, at the very least, survive Elliott’s ban thanks to their assortment of weapons on offence.

When it comes to running the ball, few teams have been better or more efficient over the past three years, with the Cowboys ranking second in the NFL in total rushing yards and third in yards per attempt twice during that span.

In those prolific seasons, the workhorse running backs were Elliott (2016) and DeMarco Murray (2014), studs who are considering two of the best at their position. That’s made it difficult to discern how much credit for Dallas’ running game should go to the ball-carriers and how much should go to the offensive line.

After leaving Dallas for Philadelphia in 2015, Murray looked a shell of himself behind a shaky Eagle’s offensive line, totaling 702 yards on the ground on 193 attempts. He rebounded in a major way, however, with Tennessee last season as he racked up 1,287 yards on 293 carries.

Darren McFadden, on the other hand, had all of one season topping 1,000 rushing yards in his career before joining Dallas in 2015, when he ran for 1,089 yards on 239 carries. The Cowboys weren’t dominant that year running the ball like they were with Murray the season prior, but they still rushed for 4.6 yards per carry and 1,890 yards total – marks that ranked them fifth and ninth in the league, respectively.

So, the answer to the question of who deserves more credit for Dallas’ ground game likely is somewhere in the middle. The offensive line has been the bedrock of the team, but talented runners have extracted the most out of it. Just like running backs need their blockers to open up holes, offensive lines need ball-carriers to find those holes and not leave meat on the bone.

Elliott rarely left any meat on the bone last season, finishing with 1,631 yards on 322 carries – a 5.1 yards per attempt clip and the third-most total rushing yards for a rookie in NFL history. Coupled with his efficiency was big-play ability as he tied with Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy for 22 runs of 15-plus yards to pace the league.

It’s hard to be any better as a rookie and Elliott deservedly received the second-highest overall grade for running backs with 88.8 by Pro Football Focus, with Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell the only player ahead of him (91.9).

McFadden, who’s in line to receive a majority of the carries, will be hard-pressed to come close to Elliott’s gaudy numbers, but proved in 2015 he’s a more-than-capable stopgap.

Dallas also have Alfred Morris, who was Elliott before Elliott when he rushed for 1,613 yards on 335 attempts in his rookie campaign back in 2012. His effectiveness has diminished every season since, but the 28-year-old could still prove useful in small stretches.

The Cowboys’ offensive line, meanwhile, remains stacked with three All-Pros in left tackle Tyron Smith, centre Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin, but right tackle Doug Free has retired and left guard Ronald Leary is now in Denver. That means La’el Collins will move to right tackle and Jonathan Cooper will most likely take over at left guard, which leaves Dallas with question marks at those positions.

As such, Pro Football Focus pegs the Cowboys’ offensive line as the ninth best unit entering the season, which could put more onus on their running backs to help with the heavy lifting.

Speaking of more onus, quarterback Dak Prescott suddenly has added responsibility to shoulder in his sophomore season.

The beauty of Prescott’s situation last year was that he wasn’t asked to do too much, thanks to the dominant running game to lean on.

But Prescott was still more than a game manager, finishing with a 104.9 passer rating and tossing just four interceptions.

He’ll have to raise his game to another level if Dallas hope to match or better their 12 wins from last season and while defences will be better prepared against the second-year signal-caller, he should continue to improve.

Elliott’s suspension is a blow and certainly concerning off the field – there’s no doubting that. On the field though, the Cowboys can manage to stay afloat.

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Infamy will live on as NFL legend OJ Simpson "The Juice" is Loose again

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Free man: O.J. Simpson was granted parole after spending nine years in prison for armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2007.

The O.J. Simpson soap opera has returned.

The plot is well known. So too the main character. It’s the kind of watch-from behind-the-sofa horror show which keeps people coming back for more with ghoulish glee.

After all, it was undoubtedly the most catastrophic fall from grace in sporting history.

When NFL legend Simpson was accused of a double murder in 1994, the world watched on openmouthed. His attempt to flee cops by driving like a madman down the highway in Los Angeles is, and remains, utterly remarkable TV.

That was just the start of the story, as the trial was covered by networks for 134 days before the former Heisman Trophy-winner was cleared of killing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

It was the most-watched court appearance in history in a time when rolling news channels and social media had yet to darken our paths.

The so called ‘Trial of the Century’ was the only story in town, so when the now 70-year-old was granted parole last week after spending nine years in jail for an armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2007, everything came flooding back for an American public still struggling to come to terms with this whole sorry saga.

 O.J. Simpson (R) talks with two of his attorneys during his trial in 1995.

O.J. Simpson (R) talks with two of his attorneys during his trial in 1995.

His initial arrest came at a highly toxic time in American history – the LA riots had carved huge divides in society. The black community was railing against law enforcement. Racial stereotyping blurred people’s judgements.

Yet, moving forward, Simpson will be a free man in October and lurch straight back into the consciousness of a nation.

One of the parole board who helped set him free wore a Kansas City Chiefs tie. It was all jokes and smiles. And, surprise surprise, the hearing went in Simpson’s favour. He said he wants to slip quietly back into life, head to Florida and enjoy the easy life. He maintains the spotlight will be shunned.

Good luck with that.

This story will run and run and run. Emotions following that unforgettable 1995 trial remain raw.

The parole hearing was given the treatment by TV networks here – ESPN gave it full coverage and analysis, as did all the major news shows. Simpson’s muddled explanation of exactly what happened that night in Sin City with a group of memorabilia collectors did little to ease nagging doubts.

Worse soon followed. The insistence that he would “never, ever pull a weapon on anybody,” was painful to watch.

He also stressed he’d never been involved in any kind of conflict. And no, he wasn’t joking.

Simpson (C) speaks in court prior to his sentencing.

Simpson (C) speaks in court prior to his sentencing.

“There was the 10,000-pound elephant in the room,” Simpson’s lawyer Malcolm LaVergne stressed.

“We were very successful in making sure that elephant was sleeping. It was washed, it was clean… and never started rearing its head and knocking things around.”

Simpson stresses he’s turned down countless interview requests and will head for Florida, which ironically has state laws in place to ensure his house cannot be seized by the attorneys looking for that extra cash.

Though, even as he sat behind bars contemplating where it all went wrong, the fascination continued.

A recent ESPN documentary won an Oscar, while a TV show bagged an Emmy. Controversial trials remain a big seller.

“I think it will be a pretty seedy existence,” legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told CNN.

“He’ll be trying to make money off what’s left of his fame. It’s mostly infamy, not fame. Good luck to America once he’s out.”

Don’t forget that Simpson was found liable in a 1996 civil trial for the deaths of Goldman and his ex.

He was told to pay $33.5 million (Dh123m) in damages – an amount which exceeded his bank balance. Simpson still owes them money.

His NFL pension will keep him off the streets and it won’t be long before he begins to use his faded celebrity to rake in a few extra dollars.

Do ‘Big Brother’ have his number? I hope not.

SOCCER

You can rely on the good old Gold Cup to keep conjuring up pure comedy moments.

Fresh from Florent Malouda playing for French Guiana despite being told not to, this week was awash with US players getting bitten and having their nipples tweaked by overfriendly Hondurans during their quarter-final clash.

Jozy Altidore was bitten and then twisted by Henry Romero but, not to be outdone, Omar Gonzalez was also treated like he was a rump steak by midfielder Darwin Ceren.

Of course, the referee missed both incidents, yet questions remain as to why the US – along with everyone else – were suddenly allowed to introduce all their big guns once the tournament reached the knockout stages.

Boss Bruce Arena had started off with a young, inexperienced side but once things began to get interesting, along came Altidore, Michael Bradley et al. Teams are allowed to replace a maximum of six players mid tournament which is just madness.

You can’t chop and change your squad in the World Cup, so why here? And while we’re at it, play the Gold Cup every four years not two.

There’s only so much you can take.

NBA

Whisper it quietly, but perhaps LaVar Ball had a point.

The man with the biggest mouth on the planet has been screaming for months that his son Lonzo, who was drafted by the LA Lakers, is the real deal.

Up there with Michael Jordan and LeBron James, he said. Well, guess who was named MVP at the NBA’s Summer League tournament in Las Vegas? Yup, you’ve guessed it.

Ball junior impressed for the Lakers even if he sat out the championship game with a calf strain. The 19 year-old averaged 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block.

He helped the Lakers into the final where the Portland Trail Blazers were swatted aside. Let’s hope now that Lonzo’s career is in full swing, his dad will keep his mouth shut and ensure actions speak louder than his often mindless words.

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball

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