FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Now that Ezekiel Elliott is near the end of a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations, Dak Prescott doesn’t mind acknowledging that things changed for the Dallas Cowboys.
Prescott was more defiant while the Cowboys were losing their first three games without last year’s NFL rushing leader and the quarterback’s backfield mate during their remarkable rookie seasons that fueled a 13-3 record.
Dallas (7-6) won the past two without Elliott and has to keep winning to stay in the wild-card race. The last game before Elliott’s return is Sunday night at Oakland (6-7).
“It’s a different team,” said Prescott , who had eight turnovers without a touchdown pass in the first three games without his fellow star.
“I think that’s the first (thing) you got to recognize is it’s not the same and things are going to be different and play-calling is going to be different. But for what I’ve learned I guess is everybody is embracing their role, their new role, different role or maybe it’s the same role.”
A loss would put a damper on Elliott’s return because it would end any realistic hopes of the young duo making the playoffs again. But his return to the team’s facility, likely on Monday, will be celebrated either way.
“I know he’s excited, and I’ve kept up with him on text,” tight end Jason Witten said. “One thing I know about Zeke through his first year and half I’ve been around him is he loves football. He’ll have to bear down here and help us make this push.”
The Cowboys scored just 22 points in the first three games without him and were outscored 72-6 in the second half, when they grew used to wearing down opponents with Elliott’s physical running style.
After those five interceptions and three lost fumbles, Prescott became more comfortable even through some sluggish starts for the offense. He threw for a career-best 332 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 30-10 win over the New York Giants.
“He’s done a good job of getting through a dry spell,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “He really worked on his game, from fundamentals to everything else and it just shows he’s going to be here for the long haul.
That’s the upside for the Cowboys if they don’t make the playoffs. Barring suspensions and injuries, Prescott and Elliott could be a backfield pair for a long time.
“We’ve adjusted to it and we’ve figured it out,” Prescott said. “It’ll make me a better player. ... Any experience I get, especially when you’re losing a player or just even that tough stretch we had, everything that I encounter I’m going to make sure I use it to make me a better player.”
Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have split snaps at running back in Elliott’s absence. Morris has started four of the five games, but Smith has an edge in playing time with 158 snaps to Morris’ 136.
“Zeke Elliot is a very good player, and when he is available to us, he makes a positive difference to our team,” coach Jason Garrett said. “In a lot of ways those opportunities for those other guys get minimized, but that doesn’t diminish our confidence in them.”
Smith has rushed for a touchdown in three straight games and took a short pass 81 yards for a touchdown against the Giants. Morris has gotten the bulk of the carries and ran for a season-best 127 yards against Washington.
Morris, who turned 28 earlier this week, is a free agent after this season. The player said he isn’t thinking about it right now, but Elliott’s absence may have been the showcase he could parlay into a better opportunity in the offseason.
“He’s just got that style in the run game where he can carry the load,” Linehan said. “He can be a 20-plus carry guy, and that’s where he’s going to have his best production.”
NOTES: DL David Irving (concussion), CB Orlando Scandrick (back fracture) and WR Brice Butler (foot) have not practiced this week, dimming the prospects for their return after missing the New York game. ... LT La’el Collins practiced for the first time in three weeks because of back issues. He hasn’t missed a game.