The Dallas Cowboys got a taste of life without star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
And just like the scene at the half empty relic that was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night, it was bland, lacked pizazz and has seen better days.
Elliott has been suspended for the first six games of the season by the NFL under the personal conduct policy for an alleged domestic assault against a former girlfriend.
The 2016 NFL leading rusher, who was not charged by the Columbus, Ohio, prosecutor’s office because of inconsistent testimony, is appealing the suspension.
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He was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s 13-10 loss against the Los Angeles Rams, along with quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
But he will play in next Saturday’s home preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.
Darren McFadden got the start against the Rams and will be on the field for the season opener against the New York Giants, barring an unprecedented reversal on appeal by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
McFadden was solid at best, rushing six times for 28 yards and catching one pass for 9 yards.
But he is no Elliott. Not even close.
McFadden’s statistics might have been better with Prescott, Bryant and Witten on the field.
Backup quarterback Kellen Moore’s lack of arm strength and propensity to throw underneath didn’t help.
Defenses are allowed to play close to the line of scrimmage.
Still, none of it was lost on coach Jason Garrett as the Cowboys converted only 2 of 8 third-down chances in the first half.
He blamed the running game.
“We just have to start moving the ball more,” Garrett said. “It’s something here and something there. We have to run the ball a little more consistently and convert those third downs.”
So McFadden’s numbers were solid.
But he is no Elliott.
The Cowboys, however, believe they can get along until Elliott returns.
More important, they built the roster just in case of the long-feared possibility of a suspension came to fruition.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said that is the reason the team brought McFadden and veteran Alfred Morris back for another year. It’s why they added former Denver starter Ronnie Hillman and why they like the rising Rod Smith.
“We knew that the investigation was ongoing and whenever you prepare for a football team you prepare for injury,” Jones said. “You prepare for things that are unexpected. And certainly, we have done that and are comfortable with who we are on this football team. If we have to play with other running backs, we like the running backs on this team.”
The Cowboys like the promise of McFadden, Morris and Hillman’s past performances.
The problem is they don’t come close to matching what Elliott does as a short yardage back, as a home-run threat, as a pass receiver or pass blocker.
What must be noted about the 1,089 yards McFadden gained in 2015 were his struggles on short yardage and his three rushing touchdowns.
That’s not good enough for an offense that relies on the running game to control the ball and clock to keep its defense off the field.
Morris is built to start and has three 1,000-yard seasons on his resume.
One reason he reportedly struggled last year when he rushed for 243 yards on 69 carries was his lack of comfort in a limited role. But his yards per carry has declined every season he has been in the league. His 3.5 yards per carry in 2016 was simply keeping up with the trend.
And maybe so was Saturday’s five carries for 11 yards.
Smith has been impressive throughout training camp and even passed Morris on the depth chart. But he made no impact against the Rams with one carry for 2 yards and one catch for 5 yards. Hillman had one carry for no yards.
All totaled, the glimpse of a future without Elliott proved to be blah.