Suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott’s legal woes have fans wondering whether the Dallas Cowboys still have a realistic chance for the playoffs this season.
At 4-3, the Cowboys are already on the outside looking in at the playoffs and have a tough stretch coming up without their biggest home-run threat in Elliott.
A look at the next three games shows — Kansas City is one of the best teams in the league, Atlanta is the reigning NFC champ and Philadelphia is the top team in the NFC right now.
Also, Philadelphia marks the beginning of a stretch of three games in 12 days with games against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thanksgiving and the Washington Redskins the following Thursday, Nov. 30. The final game without Elliott would be a Dec. 10 game at New York Giants.
But the Cowboys aren’t counting themselves out yet.
“We ain’t worried about that. We’re going to do the same thing we did last week,” running back Rod Smith said. “Just a different number.”
Added All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, “Zeke’s a special talent, so obviously it hurts that he’s not here. But you’ve got to look at the guys we have running. These guys are very, very capable and have really thrived in this league and behind us, so we’re looking forward to watching them go.”
Smith is expected to get more action along with primary backup Alfred Morris and veteran Darren McFadden.
The Cowboys are expected to use those three in a committee approach to fill Elliott’s void. Elliott, the league’s rushing champion a season ago as a rookie, has the third-most rushing yards in the league with 690.
Morris and McFadden are established runners in the league who have had 1,000-yard seasons before. But they are not considered to be in their prime anymore.
Morris has served as Elliott’s primary backup, and has 105 yards on 13 carries. McFadden has not been active this season.
Smith has 10 carries for 69 yards, as well as 23 receiving yards on two receptions.
Smith and Martin were the only two players who spoke Tuesday when the locker room was opened to reporters, and each expressed optimism about the running game.
“It’s always sad when you see a guy has got to go down for any reason, but we’ve got some good backs in our room,” Smith said. “We’re still confident, our team is confident. We’re going to go out there and do what we do. If one guy goes down, it’s next man up. That’s how you’ve got to look at it. You hate to see your boy going through this, but we still have his back, still support him. He wants us to keep the ball rolling so we’re definitely going to do that.”
The Cowboys’ running game has found its stride in recent weeks. Elliott has topped the 100-yard mark the past three games, averaging 4.69 yards a carry.
The goal is to keep it going regardless of who is in the backfield. It might help that Kansas City has the 28th-ranked run defense.
“The system is the system,” Martin said. “We’re going to be running the same plays. We’re going to be running the ball. We just have to be able to execute up front because we know these guys can make a ton of plays.”
That’s the message throughout the organization.
Owner Jerry Jones remains furious with the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell over the handling of the Elliott situation, but he spoke positively about filling the void on his 105.3 The Fan radio show early Tuesday.
“It’s fair to say that this [losing Elliott] is a takeaway for the Cowboys, that’s almost trite,” Jones said. “You just get it done, but you try to get it done a different way. Make no mistake about it though, having a guy with Zeke’s skills has given us a way to do our offense and construct our offense that is very effective. We’ve got to get it done a different way if we don’t have him.”
Cowboys vs. Chiefs
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11