Ezekiel Elliott will partake in Sunday Night’s highly anticipated opener, and both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys can’t be happier.
When informed that the Dallas Cowboys superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott would potentially miss the season opening showdown against their team, New York Giants fans expressed disappointment rather than relief. Across the Tri-State area, the Big Blue faithful wanted to earn this next battle in one of the longest lasting wars in NFL history the right way — with Dallas at full strength.
Wish granted, Giants nation.
After much deliberation, Ezekiel Elliott will, at least for the time being, serve his highly publicized six game suspension. However, he will be permitted to face the Giants on Sunday Night when his Cowboys ring in the new year against their NFC East rivals for the third consecutive season at AT&T Stadium (8:30 PM EST, NBC).
Elliott’s participation in Sunday’s game hinged on an NFL technicality. The league is allowing him to play while he and the NFL Players Association await the results of the filing of a Temporary Restraining Order against the suspension. Should the TRO be granted, the suspension would be frozen while Elliott and/or the NFLPA potentially pursue further legal options to lessen or wipe out his punishment. A ruling is expected on Friday, though Elliott’s Sunday status will not change if the Order is denied.
The drawn out saga of Elliott’s suspension stems from violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, mainly focusing on Elliott’s alleged involvement in a 2016 domestic violence case. Other off-the-field incidents also came to light over the offseason, including a video of Elliott pulling down a woman’s shirt during a St. Patrick’s Day parade and reports of an alleged altercation in a Dallas nightclub that left a man with a broken nose.
In an offseason overshadowed by negative headlines, perhaps lost in the chaos was Elliott’s stellar rookie season. Selected fourth overall in the 2016 Draft, the Ohio State alum took the league by storm, tallying a whopping 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Elliott’s six-game sentence was originally handed down on August 11, hours before the Giants opened their preseason slate. After that game, Giants safety Landon Collins expressed a desire to see Elliott find the field for Week 1.
“You want to play against the best to be one of the best, and he is one of the best out there,” Collins said. “You want to play against the best to prove yourself as a defense, as a whole, so you don’t have to deal with the backlash of, ‘if this person wasn’t here and that person wasn’t here.'”
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Collins went on to call Elliott the “difference maker” of the Cowboys.
“He kind of just sets the tone of the offense and they are definitely handing the ball of to him on first down to set the tone,” the safety said. “He’s a big difference maker for them.”
Now, mere days before the highly anticipated opener and Elliott’s prescience for the game confirmed, that mindset has not changed.
“It’s good. There won’t be too many ‘what if’s’,” linebacker BJ Goodson said. “So, I think it’s great for competition.”
“I knew he was playing Week 1. There’s no questions about it,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. added. “This is a tough defense he’s going against. He’s one of the best in the league. This is one of the best defenses in the league. So, it’ll be a good matchup. Hopefully, he gets everything figured out.”
Perhaps head coach Ben McAdoo had the most noteworthy response of all — in that he had none.
“No reaction,” McAdoo said when asked about the developments. “He’s a tremendous ball carrier and we want to play against the best. So, we are excited for the opportunity.”
Earlier this week, McAdoo had a bit of a foreboding message for anyone in the Dallas backfield. Asked on Monday if the Giants’ defensive game plan would adjust based on Elliott’s participation, McAdoo replied, “all backs run the same when there’s nowhere to run.”
In his first New York showdown, Elliott indeed had nowhere to go, as forgotten in the magnificence of his rookie season was a pair of pedestrian performances against the Giants. In last year’s opener, Elliott picked up his first career NFL touchdown but not much else. That eight-yard score in the third quarter turned out to be his longest run of the afternoon, acquiring just 51 yards on 20 carries overall.
In the December rematch at MetLife Stadium, Elliott put up a respectable 107 yards but it took him 24 carries to reach that point, and his longest rush was a mere 15 yards.
The containment of Elliott was vital for the Giants, who swept the Cowboys in their annual season set for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Those two losses were the lone blemishes on Dallas’s regular season before a Week 17 defeat in Philadelphia, where they rested most of their starters. The Cowboys nonetheless earned their second NFC East title in three years but failed to win a playoff game, falling to the Green Bay Packers in a heartbreaking 37-34 loss in the divisional round.
“(I’m) just happy for my guy to be out there,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said of Elliott in a Wednesday conference call. “I’m glad he’s getting to play and put all this stuff behind him for a week, or forever, how long we get to. (He’s just going to) get out there and enjoy just being on the field with (us) and go get a win.”
Prescott, likewise trying to amend his duplicate 0-2 mark against the Giants, said that his fellow sophomore has looked “good” in practice.
“He realizes there’s not much he can do from this standpoint. It’s kind of all out of his hands and in the lawyer’s hands and he’s excited just about moving forward. You can just see that in his attitude,” Prescott said. “He’s gone out there and he’s taken on practice the right way.”