Without Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys' plan won't change; how they do it will

FRISCO, Texas -- While the final resolution of Ezekiel Elliott’s case should come Dec. 1, when he has another appeal hearing, the Dallas Cowboys know he won’t play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Without Elliott, the Cowboys will begin the committee approach they had in place since Aug. 11, when the NFL initially announced the running back’s six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy.

How the Cowboys play will not change, according to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, just the running backs who will play.

“There’s no change to what we would do,” Linehan said Thursday before the Elliott decision came down. “We don’t have any contingency that if this were to happen or wasn’t going to happen that we would change anything, really, of what we’re focusing on. We’re going to put 11 out there and go play ball.”

The change will be from one back doing just about everything in Elliott to three backs splitting the work in Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden.

Elliott has 191 of the 215 carries by the Cowboys’ running backs this season. He has 783 of the running backs’ 968 yards. Morris has 14 carries this season and had just one last week. Smith has 10 carries on the season and had none last week. McFadden has not been active for a game yet this season.

Linehan has not had a committee approach since coming to the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray set the franchise record with 392 carries in 2014. After the first five weeks in 2015, McFadden became the Cowboys' lead back, finishing with 239 carries. Last year, Elliott had 322 carries. He was on pace for 382 carries this season.

“They can all do our offense really well, run our schemes really well,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “Darren is a speed guy, so he is always a threat to go the home run. Rod’s a big, fast, strong guy and I would say Alfred is probably the master of the outside zone. So they call bring a different quality, a positive quality that we’re going to be able to take advantage of.”

Brown had a committee of backs for a few of his seasons with the Cleveland Browns before coming to the Cowboys. The challenge is finding enough work to get a running back in a rhythm. Most backs say they get better with more carries.

“When you have three backs that are competent, you hope one gets hot and maybe you ride him a little bit longer,” Brown said. “But all three guys bring different qualities that you really, really like and we’ve got to get all three involved.”