On the heels of learning that the six-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was upheld by league-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson, it likely wasn’t met with cheers and high-fives from New York Giants fans.
While the punishment that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell doled out to Elliott for violating the personal conduct policy was upheld, the star running back will still be able to play in Sunday night’s season opener, when the Cowboys host the Giants.
Today’s temporary restraining order hearing in United States District Court in Sherman, Texas, acknowledged that because of the timing of Henderson’s decision, Big Blue will actually face the Cowboys’ full complement of arsenal.
Elliott’s availability for Week 2 at the Denver Broncos and beyond is in doubt, as Judge Amos Mazzant said he will make a decision on Elliott’s temporary restraining order by Friday at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The restraining order request comes from the NFL Players Association, who seek a temporary stay in hopes it keeps the suspension on hold beyond this weekend. If the order is not granted and Elliott does not take the case further in the legal system, then the first game he would be eligible to play in would be November 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Elliott’s attorneys said they intend to take his case to the federal level, if necessary.
But all that extra legalize has no bearing on the Giants, this Sunday, as they’ll be forced to deal with Dallas at full strength – not to mention a likely hyped-up and ticked-off Elliott who has been through the ringer the last few weeks. There’s always something a little extra in the air any time the Giants visit AT&T Stadium — especially in primetime, especially when it’s a season opener, and especially when all the added noise surrounding this game is included.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo has insisted all along that his team would prepare for whoever was lined up behind quarterback Dak Prescott. The coach knows how important Elliott is to the Cowboys’ success, but always allowed that it wouldn’t have mattered to their defensive gameplan.
“Listen, our focus is on preparing for Dallas … all backs run the same when there is nowhere to run, so our goal is to do our job and be prepared to stop the run,” McAdoo said. “And if he’s playing, great. If he’s not, then that’s great. We are going to play whoever suits up for them.”
Whether McAdoo’s casual demeanor is a front or not, is up for debate. But any defensive coordinator would be highly interested in an opposing star player’s plight. So, now that Big Blue knows that Elliott will play, that’s actually a fortunate thing for Giants’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, as he won’t have to deviate much from his gameplan and switch things up as if they’d see backup Darren McFadden instead. While McFadden is a fine back in his own right, he’s no Elliott. The former Ohio State University star burst onto the scene, last season, as a rookie and set the league on fire when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie echoed his coach’s sentiments, while also trying not to disrespect Elliott’s understudies.
“It’s still the same scheme. You can’t forget about Alfred Morris and the things that he does. I think his role is diminished a little bit now that they’ve got Zeke and McFadden, but those guys are still really good backs,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “I don’t think their scheme changes much.”
All-Pro safety Landon Collins said prior to today’s ruling that he was “hoping” the appeal went through, noting he loves to “play against the best players.”
He’ll get his wish.
Elliott participated in today’s meetings and walk-through at The Star, the Cowboys’ gigantic state-of-the-art practice facility in Frisco, Texas, before heading to Paul Brown District Court. He’s also expected to be at the team’s full-padded practice, tomorrow, undeniably fired up to be free for at least one game.
Morris was actually the more successful runner when these two teams met in the 2016-17 opener, when he had seven carries for 35 yards in the Giants’ 20-19 victory. Elliott, in comparison, tallied just 51 yards on 20 carries, with his longest run being an eight-yard touchdown in the second half.
The Giants’ excellent run defense ranked second, last season, and shut down Elliott in the opener. But the unit had some struggles in the second meeting in December, at MetLife Stadium, when he had 24 carries for 107 yards. The Giants won that one, too, so Elliott will undoubtedly want to earn his first-ever victory over the Giants.
He’ll be ready, come Sunday night…but so will Big Blue.