Why the Giants will benefit most from Ezekiel Elliott's suspension
Elliott was suspended six games for violating the NFL's conduct policy, the league announced Friday. The ban came after an investigation that started more than a year ago when an ex-girlfriend accused Elliott of domestic violence in Columbus, Ohio.
If the suspension holds, Elliott will miss 38 percent of the regular season. That's a significant chunk of the 16-game slate, and it could greatly affect how things play out in the NFC East.
"Zeke is definitely one of the best running backs in the league. Any time you lose somebody like that, it's tough to replace," Giants cornerback Eli Apple said. "But I know they have other guys and definitely have a great team, so we're not going to look at that and lighten up."
The Giants are the only NFC East team to play the Cowboys in the first six weeks of the season. The Washington Redskins' first matchup with Dallas is in Week 8, and the Philadelphia Eagles' is in Week 11. They won't miss a meeting with Elliott.
The Giants appear to be the biggest beneficiary the way this seems ready to unfold. Say what you want about the dominant Cowboys offensive line and Elliott's potential replacements (Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Ronnie Hillman), their running game takes a major hit without the NFL's leading rusher last season. Elliott averaged 108.7 yards per game rushing as a rookie; McFadden led the Cowboys with 68.1 yards per game the previous season behind a similar offensive line.
It's an unintended consequence of the suspension, but Elliott's absence helps the Giants' chances in Week 1 and throughout the season. Even though Elliott struggled in the 2016 opener against the Giants' defense (it also happened to double as his NFL debut), the Pro Bowl back ran for more than 100 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry in the second meeting.
The Giants don't seem to mind that Elliott won't be available. Not that they have a voice in the decision.
"I don't care," starting linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said. "We get 'em how we get 'em."
The topic wasn't something the Giants addressed as a team Friday. They were busy preparing for their preseason opener, a 20-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Ben McAdoo explained "one team is enough for me to worry about right now."
Casillas said there were whispers about the suspension in the locker room before Friday's game. But he didn't know until he came to the stadium later in the day, and defensive end Olivier Vernon was unaware until a reporter told him after the game.
"They still have the same O-line, the same quarterback, the same receivers and they have really scary running backs," Casillas said. "He's really good, for sure, with all his efforts.
"But Dallas is still Dallas without him, 100 percent."
Elliott's suspension could ultimately change the outlook for the NFC East. The Cowboys will have to face three tough defenses (Giants, Broncos and Cardinals) in the first three weeks without one of their best offensive players.
It's not going to be easy to overcome the loss. The Cowboys also have to deal with the aftershocks of the suspension. The scrutiny on Elliott will only increase. So will the potential for distraction.
Dallas, the defending division champion, will have to try to keep it from ruining the season. The rest of the NFC East will be waiting to pounce.