FRISCO, Texas – It's not an ideal circumstance, but it was an astute observation Jerry Jones made earlier this week.
The Cowboys' owner/general manager, in speaking about his suspended All-Pro running back, couldn't help but point out an unintended benefit of Ezekiel Elliott's absence from the team. Detrimental as the suspension might be to the Cowboys' performance, it's something that can only help Dak Prescott's development as a quarterback.
"It hurt us to miss Zeke, but as far as Dak is concerned, we've got a better player for having gone through this," Jones said. "I don't recommend it for the Cowboys of course, but we got a better player."
Frankly, it's hard to imagine this would be the conversation during the early going of the suspension. When he was without Elliott and Tyron Smith in Atlanta on Nov. 12, Prescott was sacked eight times. His fortunes didn't immediately improve, either, as he threw five total picks and no touchdowns in two lopsided losses to Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Whatever was missing in that losing streak, though, Prescott seems to be re-discovering it on the strength of back-to-back winning performances. As the quarterback himself admitted on Wednesday, part of that is learning how to play without his right hand man.
"It's a different team. I think that's the first thing you've got to recognize, is it's not the same," he said. "Things are going to be different – play calling is going to be different."
It hasn't always been pretty, but the Cowboys have at least looked a bit more comfortable in the last two outings. They got back to the ground game that has made them successful in the win against Washington, running for 182 yards against the Redskins – their third-best total of the season, behind efforts against the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco.
Last week, again, wasn't perfect by any stretch, but the Cowboys managed to find the big-play offense that has eluded them, even when they had Elliott in the lineup.
"We've adjusted to it and figured it out," Prescott said. "It'll make me a better player – any experience I get. Especially when you're losing a player or even that tough stretch we had, everything I encounter I'm going to use it to make me a better player."
Sunday marks the last game of Elliott's suspension, and it will also come as a solid test of just how much the Cowboys have grown. A win is a win in the NFL, but it's hard to ignore the fact that Washington and New York are a combined 7-16 this season.
The Raiders are below .500, as well, but still boast plenty of formidable weapons – and their 6-7 record still has them in contention for a playoff spot, provided they can find a way to defeat Dallas.
It all changes again for Week 16, as Elliott will re-join the fray for the final two weeks of the season. But in the meantime, the Cowboys will be without him for one last week, which promises to be an excellent opportunity for Prescott and his teammates to showcase how they've grown without him.
"As for what I've learned, I guess is that everybody is embracing their role – their different role, their new role or maybe it's the same role," Prescott said. "They're embracing it. Everybody is wanting to step up and make that play, they're not waiting for somebody else to make it."