Ezekiel Elliott has had a rough go of it for the Cowboys this year, showing decidedly little burst while playing through a nagging knee injury. While Zeke’s toughness is admirable, suiting up at much less than 100 percent, the 26-year-old’s recent ineffectiveness should give the Cowboys coaching staff plenty to think about.
Ian Rapoport and others suggested Elliott might need time off to heal his bruised knee and the Cowboys’ “mini bye,” not playing again until December 12th at Washington, should provide their ailing workhorse at least a slight reprieve. But with Elliott, who arrived at training camp in “the best shape of his life” (like we haven’t heard that before), circling the drain, maybe it’s time for Dallas to start getting Tony Pollard more involved.
Pollard has, by almost every conceivable measurement, outplayed Elliott this year, averaging a robust 5.6 yards per carry, good for sixth in the league among qualified ball-carriers. Even on limited reps (seven rushing attempts), Pollard shined in Thursday night’s rout of New Orleans (which snapped a two-game losing skid for Dallas), taking a 58-yard carry to the house for his second touchdown in as many weeks.
Elliott’s woes of late have been well-documented. The former fourth overall pick hasn’t topped 100 yards rushing since Week 5, totaling 313 yards on 88 rushing attempts (3.56 yards per carry) over that span. Elliott simply isn’t passing the eye test, showing barely a fraction of the explosiveness displayed by Pollard week in and week out. According to analytics database ProFootballFocus (h/t to NBC Sports Edge), Elliott’s elusive rating this season—27.3—is among the sport’s worst, ranking 54th out of 63 qualified running backs. That’s well below Pollard, who rates tenth in that same metric (77.9). Pollard, despite significantly fewer carries, has also shed more tackles than Elliott, compiling 24 to Zeke’s 17.
Pollard’s case for RB1 status in Dallas seems pretty open and shut, though, unfortunately, it’s not that simple with Elliott among the league’s highest-paid running backs at $15 million annually. And even with Elliott in the midst of what many would describe as a down year, he’s still found the end zone nine times (eight rushing touchdowns, one receiving).
Elliott’s dry spell over the past month could be little more than a garden variety slump. Or it could be a cautionary tale and a reminder to teams that paying top dollar for running backs, especially those with as much mileage as Zeke (1,654 career regular and postseason carries), is rarely a good idea.