When talking about the on-again, off-again Ezekiel Elliott suspension, Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones has remained strangely confident that not only had Zeke “done nothing wrong,” but that he would have his name ultimately cleared so that he could play the full season without interruption. That confidence, unfortunately, has failed to pay off despite being parrotted numerous times now. Leading up to each appeal hearing, Jones has remained confident, only to find himself frustrated and angry at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell all over again. That appears to be the case yet again, as the latest hearing has once again reinstated Elliott’s 6 game suspension effective immediately. Coincidentally (or rather not), reports have once again surfaced suggesting Jones is leading a group of roughly 14 owners to try to halt Goodell’s once “sure thing” contract extension. So with Jones touting his confidence time and again -dating all the way back to the Hall of Fame Game, only to be shut down at seemingly every turn, why should we believe him now when he says he’s confident with the backfield they have now?

Alfred Morris was once a 1,600 yard rusher and a Pro Bowler. Darren McFadden just two years ago ran for more than 1,000 yards behind (more or less) this same offensive line. But Alfred Morris’s production has declined in each of his six seasons since entering the league with RG3 in 2012. And Darren McFadden, despite what he would tell you, has lost a step over the years. This, of course, should come as no surprise given McFadden is 30 years old and has had a history of injuries. What’s more, during that 2015 campaign which saw McFadden finish among the top 5 rushers in the league, it was clear that while this offensive line could open holes for just about anybody, it took a special running back to truly capitalize on them and, ultimately, dominant a game the way Dallas had the year prior with DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys obviously believed as much, themselves, considering they proceeded to spend the #4 pick in the draft on one of those special game-breaking running backs rather than stud corner, Jalen Ramsey, who has since gone on to become one of the best young corners in the league.

No disrespect to Morris or McFadden, but while they are serviceable veterans, and possibly even adequate “change of pace” backs whenever Zeke needs a blow, they just aren’t the dynamic threat that he is. What that means is that defenses won’t be forced to stack the box the same way in Zeke’s absence; that they’re free to double up or bracket Dez or Beasley now because they know it’s okay to let Morris or McFadden rush for 3 or 4 yards a pop. Conversely, were Zeke in the game, those same runs, even with a stacked box, could go for 5-6 yards, and they would always possess the potential to go the distance. Remember that flare screen to Zeke in Pittsburgh last year that went 83 yards to the house? How about the one at San Fransico two weeks ago that went 70+ for a score? Can you imagine either Morris or McFadden doing that?

Sure, they might have still turned out to be nice gains, but Morris is a one-dimensional back, lacking in the receiving game, mediocre in the blocking game, and with zero special teams play. In McFadden’s case, I’m reminded of the game against Green Bay two years ago wherein he broke through a hole on the opening series so large a damn semi could’ve gone untouched. McFadden ripped off a nice run, flanked by multiple blockers -most notably then-rookie, La’el Collins. But just when you expected him to hit that next gear and find paydirt, he instead faltered, cutting back to the middle of the field and being dragged down around the 10 yard line. Two plays later, fill-in QB Matt Cassel tossed a pick, and the 2015 Cowboys remembered who they were. True, it was just one play, but in that one play, you saw what is, in essence, the key difference between a player like Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden. At the height of his powers, Zeke finishes that run 9 times out of 10. McFadden, now two years older, seems unlikely to do so once in as many chances.

The Dallas offense hasn’t been the problem (at least not much) during their 4-3 start, but it’s a no-brainer to say that it runs better when it has the threat of a big play on the field. Whether that means Zeke taking a short dump-pass 70+ yards, or a play-action pass finding Dez deep over the top, it’s all predicated off of the threat of the run game. Without Elliott on the field, that threat is severely diminished, and “capable” backs aren’t going to be enough to free up Dez or Beasley. If Dallas wants to survive these next few weeks, and ultimately stay in the playoff hunt without Elliott, it’ll need more out of its backfield. So, Jerry, you can be confident all you want, but until Sunday, I’ll reserve judgment.


Darreck W. Kirby

Founder of The Dallas Prospect, Darreck took a love for writing, analysis, and sports and brought them together in one site. Whether tracking the latest Cowboys stats and trends or breaking down film analysis for the latest flick, Darreck does it all.