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Like last year vs. Giants, Cowboys enter opener with uncertainty on offense

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Should Elliott play Week 1? (0:47)

Stephen A. Smith takes issue with how the NFL handled Ezekiel Elliott's suspension and encourages the RB to take the field for the Cowboys' opener. (0:47)

FRISCO, Texas -- A year ago as the Dallas Cowboys prepared for their season opener against the New York Giants, they had uncertainty, if confidence, in a major position on their offense.

This year as they get ready to face the Giants in the season opener at AT&T Stadium, they have the same uncertainty in a major position on their offense. This time it’s not Dak Prescott but Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott and the Cowboys are awaiting the decision from arbitrator Harold Henderson on the appeal of the running back’s six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy. Even if Henderson upholds or reduces the suspension, Elliot could still play against the Giants pending the results of a temporary restraining order request.

“You just focus on the situation that you’re in and you focus on doing your best,” coach Jason Garrett said. “As coaches and as players, you prepare, you prepare, you prepare and then you go play. And that’s really what our philosophy is. We don’t really listen too much of the noise or the clutter outside of our building. We focus on what we need to do each day to prepare and go play our best football.”

The noise and clutter last year was much more palatable than the details that have come out from Elliott’s three-day hearing in New York. Last year, the Cowboys were simply dealing with a change at quarterback with Prescott taking over for an injured Tony Romo.

“You’re starting with a rookie quarterback against a really good football team in Week 1,” Garrett said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty going into that game. But there was also a lot of reason for confidence, based on what we had seen up to that point. Felt really good about how Dak had handled everything. Every meeting, every walkthrough, every practice and the game opportunity we had had up to that point. We felt good about it. We knew it was his first start. We knew what those challenges were. We certainly tried to help him, as best we could like we would any quarterback, or any young player. Again, he handled it well. He did a lot of good things in that first game. It was good to see him get that experience under his belt.”

Prescott nearly put the Cowboys in position to attempt a game-winning field goal in the final seconds but Terrance Williams did not get out of bounds, allowing the clock to run out.

He finished the 20-19 loss to the Giants with 227 yards on 25-of-45 passing with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

The rematch in December was not much better for the Cowboys. Prescott completed 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards with one touchdown. He also had his first multi-interception game of his career in the 10-7 loss.

It wasn’t a Prescott problem. It was a Giants problem. The New York defense was able to dictate control of both games.

In the season opener, Elliott was too anxious and finished with 51 yards on 20 carries, although he scored a touchdown. The Cowboys were 1-for-3 in red zone trips, twice settling for field goals after getting inside the New York 10.

In the second meeting, the Cowboys were 1-of-15 on third down. Dez Bryant was limited to one catch for 10 yards after he was limited to one catch for 8 yards in the season opener. He lost a fumble on his only reception, which did not come until the fourth quarter. Elliott finished with 107 yards on 24 carries but it was the only time in the last five games in which he played that he did not score a touchdown.

“If you look at them in all three levels of their defense, they’re good up front, they have good linebackers, they’re very active and they have good cover guys on the back end,” Garrett said. “They do a very good job with their scheme. It’s an aggressive scheme. It’s a scheme that hasn’t given up a lot of big plays in the running game or in the passing game against any opponent. If you look at them statistically on defense, they’re top five in all the critical categories against every team in the league. We have a healthy respect for them and we recognize what the challenges are.”