FRISCO, Texas – We can speculate all we want, and obviously the preference would be for Ezekiel Elliott to be suiting up this Sunday in Atlanta.
The bottom line, though, is that while Elliott is a talented player, the Cowboys’ game plan against the Falcons is ultimately going to look very similar to what we’re used to. They’re going to run the same plays and try to set themselves up in the same favorable positions using the same concepts. It just so happens that they’ll be missing the All-Pro running back who makes those things look so easy.
We’ll get a look at what Elliott’s replacements can do starting this weekend, and that’s where I’ll start this week’s notebook. But there are several other storylines to consider heading into Week 10, from injuries to defensive matchups.
Let’s take a look:
- This will be the first time that Darren McFadden will be active this season, but I don't expect him to be much of a factor in the game plan. Alfred Morris and Rod Smith should be the primary running backs against the Falcons. Even when Elliott practiced during the week, it was Morris and Smith getting the snaps with the first offense while McFadden still worked with the scout team. Even with Morris starting, keep an eye on Smith. He is the one back that has similar running style to Elliott's and the coaches might want to go with that over Morris.
- I don't see Tyron Smith playing this week against the Falcons. This groin injury will not be healed enough for him to play, so Chaz Green will take his place. Green has subbed for Smith before and has had some success. Generally, during the week in preparation for games, Green and Byron Bell would split snaps. But with the likelihood of Smith not being available, my guess is that Green got the majority of the snaps. From my experience, if the coaches know they have to get a backup ready, they don't split those snaps during the week.
- I am willing to bet that Dez Bryant doesn't miss this game. There is no question that he is banged up with the knee and the ankle. Despite those issues, Bryant is the ultimate competitor and with the club being short-handed he knows that his teammates need him more than ever. Bryant will also not want to miss an opportunity to be on the field and battle against Julio Jones in a matchup of physical receivers.
- If you listen to our daily podcast of "Talkin Cowboys," you know that I have a Papa John's pizza bet with Mickey Spagnola and Taylor Stern. The bet is about Chidobe Awuzie and how much he would play on Sunday. I said that Awuzie needs to get out there and play as much as possible. Mickey and Taylor feel that he needs to take his time and get more work in practice. As much as I disagree with them, they're likely going to be right. He has been listed as a full participant each day, but it's my understanding that he's getting more work on the scout team than with the defense. When I asked Jason Garrett about Awuzie he said he just needs to practice for several days, play a game and come back and do it again. Maybe I should have waited a week on that bet?
- As we've seen in the past, don't expect these Dallas defensive backs to travel with Julio Jones. Wherever Jones lines up, that's where they will pick him up. Like in the Kansas City game, I would expect that the Falcons will take a deep shot with Jones likely matched up against Anthony Brown. He has been the one corner that's had his issues against the double-move, which is a staple of the Falcons offense.
- Something to keep in mind during this game, especially if it's tight. The Falcons have had their share of problems playing two-minute defense this season. Opponents have scored 14 points in those situations, which puts them at 25th in the league. The Cowboys are fourth-best in the league when scoring before half and seventh-best at the end of games.
- I will be interested to see how Scott Linehan plays these 3rd/4th down and short situations. With Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, there was a 90 percent success rate, which is in itself incredible, considering the league average is right at 68 percent. I expect that we would see Alfred Morris and Rod Smith lining up with Keith Smith at fullback in order to convert those snaps.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: K Dan Bailey, CB Chidobe Awuzie, LB Justin Durant, LB Justin March-Lillard, OT Tyron Smith, TE Blake Jarwin. That’s only six guys, but the Cowboys could go one guy short here in waiting to replace Ezekiel Elliott this week. If they ultimately decide to promote someone from the practice squad, that guy would likely be inactive.