On why the biggest story of Week 1 is a legal battle, the Cowboys’ convincing win over the Giants, the Rams’ turnaround, Cleveland’s narrow loss and more.
$.01â??As is becoming customary, the biggest news in the NFL doesn’t have anything to do with the on-field product. Technically this one does as Ezekiel Elliott is now able to take the field for the Dallas Cowboys, but the bigger story is why the star running back was allowed to play.
Elliott was supposed to be suspended for the first six games for allegations of domestic violence. Even though Elliott has denied the claims of his ex-girlfriend and he was never charged by police, the NFL found what it believed was sufficient evidence to the contrary. The six-game banishment was immediatelyâ??and correctlyâ??decried as unduly excessive. That it happened with such a prominent young star on the league’s most visible team only exacerbated this perception.
Elliott lawyered up, and the courts sided with him. A judge in suburban Dallas granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction throwing out the league-imposed suspension. From judge Mazzant’s public briefing comes this damning quote,
“The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator. The answer is he did not.”
The arbitrator in question here is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s important to note the NFLPA (the player’s union) agreed to allow Goodell to be the arbitrator. Goodell’s ponderous and seemingly arbitrary administration of punishment wound up being his own undoing. One year after suspending Giants kicker Josh Brown just one game for being convicted in court of beating the snot out of his wife, and not for the first time either, Goodell dropping the six-game hammer on Elliott for less evidence came across as some combination of clueless, random, racist and tone deaf.
There are many lessons here for all different parties. For players, including Elliott himself, STOP HITTING WOMEN. Don’t even get into the position where you could be mistakenly construed as hitting a woman. For Goodell, recuse yourself from being the final judge and jury of your own kangaroo court. It’s fine to make the final decision, but you then can’t also be the person who decides whether your own decision stands. For the NFLPA, stop giving away everything you should care about for an extra quarter-percent of the revenue during the next CBA.
$.02â?? Elliott played for the Cowboys in the Sunday night primetime affair against the New York Giants. Unfortunately the game didn’t live up to the lofty billing. New York’s motley blend of terrible offensive tackle play, predictable play calls and no real rushing threat drove away any real competitiveness from the game. Without the injured Odell Beckham, New York had nothing. They didn’t cross their own 35 yard line in the first half, netting just 49 yards.
The first play of the second half saw Eli Manning getting sacked, too. The Cowboys defense got pressure reliably on most pass plays, and just for good measure brought extra at times too. The Giants did manage a field goal drive and worked up some jazzier plays, but it was not pretty. Ereck Flowers at left tackle gave them no chance to succeed with any sort of consistency. Brandon Marshall did nothing, almost quite literally; the big target looked plodding and not all that interested in running strong routes. Manning seldom looked his way, a real surprise with Beckham out.
Perhaps seeing New York’s abysmal tackle play was exacerbated by comparing them to their Dallas counterparts. Tyron Smith was powerful and technically almost perfect all night on the left side. He helped Elliott run for 104 yards on 24 carries. Dak Prescott looked sharp, spreading the ball around to several receivers with impressive accuracy and confidence. He was aided by Cole Beasley making one of the best catches you’ll see all year, trapping the ball on his nameplate on the back of his shoulders. The Cowboys were more methodical than explosive, but that was exactly what the doctor ordered in the 19-3 win.
Dallas can keep winning by doing their thing. The Giants cannot win unless they find something new to do, particularly at left tackle. Even though they lack depth, nothing can be worse than Flowers at this point. Getting Beckham back is an imperative too. It’s hard to see New York getting much better without their star wide receiver.
$.03â??Aaron Donald is one of the best, most impactful defensive players in the league. Donald plays in one of the biggest media markets for the Los Angeles Rams. He’s the darling of the analytical set, perennially topping the Pro Football Focus and B/R 1000 ratings.
Donald didn’t play in the Rams’ opener, but you probably didn’t hear a lot about it unless you watched the game. That in and of itself is bizarre. Here is a fantastic All-Pro talent, one of the best young players in the game, and he’s staging a contract holdout even though he’s got two more years on his rookie deal. Yet his bitter holdout gets almost no national attention despite the fact he plays, or would play, his home games just down the road from NFL Network headquarters.
The Rams didn’t need Donald, not against the Luck-less Colts. Los Angeles annihilated their visitors from Indianapolis 46-9. With Scott Tolzein replacing Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts managed just 10 first downs. They did not convert a single third down. Tolzein threw 2 INTs and was sacked 4 times as the Colts ran just 46 offensive plays. Tyrunn Walker, Donald’s unofficial fill-in, bagged one of those sacks for a Rams team which faced little resistance from Indy’s defense, either.
It’s difficult to gauge how to interpret the Rams’ offensive outpouring. These Colts might have the worst overall roster in the league with Luck and center Ryan Kelly out, but their defense did add some promising pieces in the offseason. They did nothing to slow down Jared Goff, who completed 21 of 29. He was seldom pressured. Newcomers Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp both posted impressive lines, too. It’s a great start for LA’s 31-year-old prodigy of a rookie head coach Sean McVay, and a shock for Rams fans who had gotten used to predictable disappointment under Jeff Fisher. The Rams will obviously need Donald back if they hope to make a surprise playoff run. What’s nice for Los Angeles is they showed they can dominate an inferior opponent without him. That’s not something Rams fans ever saw in the persistently, prolonged era of mediocrity (at best) under Jeff Fisher.
$.04â??Hands down the best story in the NFL year so far is J.J. Watt and his heroic efforts to help the Houston area …
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