How the Cowboys Can Survive 2017 Without Ezekiel Elliott

After what has seemed like an eternity, the NFL has seemed to reach its final verdict in the Ezekiel Elliott domestic violence case. After being found legally innocent and filing appeal after appeal, it looks like the case might be a lost cause, as Elliott is on course to serve his 6-game suspension from Week 9 through Week 14, and be eligible to return on December 12th.

So far, the Dallas Cowboys are sitting at 4-3, good enough for second place in the NFC East, with a matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday. Elliott has run himself into third place in the rushing title race, even with only getting 8 yards against a stout Denver front line.

Now, the Cowboys are without their most valuable offensive weapon and need to find a way to carry on. With nine games left on the schedule, the Cowboys play 3 top-16 defenses, and with 4 divisional matchups left, the season is far from over, even without Zeke.

During the 6-game suspension, the Cowboys play a home game against Kansas City, an away game in Atlanta, a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, two back-to-back home Thursday games against the Chargers (Thanksgiving) and the Redskins, and their second game against the rival Giants in New York.

There are two key things that the offense needs to focus on if it wants to continue its dominance in these 6 games:

First, do not abandon the run. Even with Elliott, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loved to completely abandon the run and trust Dak Prescott around halfway through the third quarter. Without Elliott, it is even more crucial that the Cowboys stay on the ground. Defenses are expecting them to be pass-heavy now, so catching them off guard and running the ball straight up the gut is exactly what Linehan needs to do to be successful. It won’t be a difficult feat, considering the offensive line is just starting to hit their strides and that the backfield still has two 1,000-yard rushers, one of which accomplished this in just 10 games as a starter. Ground and pound, and there’s no one who can stop Dallas.

Second, look for Dez Bryant deep. In 23 games as a starter, Dak Prescott has yet to get comfortable throwing downfield to Dez, despite the wide receiver being able to gain separation on cornerbacks and safeties much younger than him. If Dak can rely on the run, and lull the Chiefs defense into a sense of security, one fake handoff brings up the safeties, and Dez is gone for six. Get the ball to Dez, but don’t force it. One of Prescott’s key issues is not looking to Bryant, or overthrowing him when he does. Just get the ball in Dez’s hands, and magic is sure to follow.

On the other side of the ball, the defense needs to find a way to contain Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt has had himself quite the rookie year, with 763 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. This offensive line will be the best unit the Cowboys defensive line has faced all season, so it’s time to see if David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence really are the EDGE defenders they are chalked up to be.

The Chiefs don’t exactly have a spoil of riches at wide receiver, but tight end Travis Kelce could cause some issues. Remember when Byron Jones held Rob Gronkowski to 4 catches as a rookie? If Jourdan Lewis or Orlando Scandrick can manage to do the same, and the Dallas front 7 plays up to its potential, then Alex Smith will have nowhere to go, except into the ground behind the line of scrimmage.

Despite the hole the Dallas Cowboys apparently have found themselves in, they can make it through this stretch with little dropoff in production. All it takes is focusing on the fundamentals of football.