The Dallas Cowboys play three of the best run defenses in the NFL early in the season, making the potential absence of leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott that much more worrisome.
The NFL suspended Elliott six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Elliott has appealed the suspension, which the league will review Aug. 29.
It’s a big blow to the offense, which faces three of the league’s top 10 defenses against the rush from 2016 during the stretch. The Cowboys open at AT&T Stadium against the New York Giants, who were tied for third best in run defense last season, giving up 88.6 yards a game.
Even if the NFL reduces Elliott’s suspension, it’s likely to be only by one or two games. So the Cowboys probably won’t have Elliott for their Week 3 game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 25. The Cardinals held opponents to 94.9 yards rushing, ninth lowest a year ago. The Packers, whom the Cowboys host Oct. 8, ranked eighth with 94.7 yards allowed on the ground.
The Cowboys led the league in run defense in 2016. They held teams to 83.5 yards rushing a game.
Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are the Cowboys’ two best options to fill in for Elliott. Both have 1,000-yard seasons in the past. But neither can touch the success Elliott had as a rookie a year ago. He led the league with 1,631 yards and 108.7 yards per game and rushed for 15 touchdowns.
Running without Zeke
A look at the Cowboys’ first six opponents and how their rushing defense fared in 2016: