With the elevated play of quarterback Dak Prescott and an elite receiving trio, it’s easy to forget how important Ezekiel Elliott is to achieving the Dallas Cowboys‘ championship desires. Dallas is certainly capable of scoring points with a limited run game, but being one-dimensional tends to damage other areas of the game.
Elliott may no longer be “the straw that stirs the drink” as Cowboys Chief Operating Officer Stephen Jones anointed in years past. However, his rushing effectiveness is crucial to Dallas winning the NFC East and making a deep playoff run.
When his offensive line is intact and Zeke is firing on all cylinders, this Cowboys team is hard to beat. Pair an elite passing offense with the best version of Elliott and Dallas becomes a true contender in the playoffs.
Elliott’s power running helps move the chains, yet also forces defenses to cheat players closer to the line of scrimmage. Thus allowing the dangerous wide receivers more space to operate. The return of Blake Jarwin versus a cheating defense will surely pay big dividends.
At the same time, Zeke’s past ability to win contested yards and lean on a defense helped the Cowboys defense rest off the field longer. Also, Elliott’s return to glory would help Dallas break out of the funk of slow starts and often playing from behind.
IMPORTANCE OF A ZEKE RESURGENCE
One glaring stat that proves how much of a difference-maker Elliott can be is his team’s record when eclipsing 100 yards rushing in a game. Dallas is 24-4 when Elliott has hit the century mark. Even three of those four losses were by two to four points.
Dallas hasn’t lost more than once in any season when Zeke topped 100 yards rushing. The only two seasons he didn’t do so at least seven times were 2017 and 2020. In 2017 he began a six-game suspension with four 100+ yards outings already in the bank. And we all witnessed how much damage the pandemic did to focus and preparation last season.
While maybe not as predictive as rushing yards, Zeke’s amount of carries often leads Dallas to a winning scoreboard. Dallas is 28-10 when Elliott has rushed 20 or more times in a game. Getting Zeke the rock at or above 20 times has increased the odds of a Cowboys victory nearly threefold.
2020 WOES AND LOOKING FORWARD
Elliott’s 2020 rushing results were forgettable for many reasons. The offensive line was shredded, Elliott had unusual ball control issues, and the porous defense forced the passing offense to chase points at an undesirable rate.
With all the negative aspects last season, Zeke was only able to break 100 yards rushing twice, both victories. Elliott was inactive in Week 15, though Dallas was just 3-10 when he failed to top 100 yards on the ground. His first three full (non-suspension) seasons saw at least six century mark games in each.
Just as surprising, Elliott was only handed the ball 20+ times in three games last season. In each of his previous four seasons (including the 2017 suspension year), Zeke hit the 20-carry mark seven times. Two things are likely happening when Zeke isn’t eating at a twenty clip. The run game is not effectively helping the offense (moving the chains) and/or the Cowboys are playing from behind.
The three players most crucial to Elliott’s revival in 2021 are doing their part with excellent preparation. All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith underwent a long overdue, successful neck surgery and will be ready for camp. Right tackle La’el Collins appears to be healthy following hip surgery. Of most importance, Zeke appears rededicated by leaning up and honing his craft.
It all remains to be seen how things will progress and if the Cowboys’ offensive line can stay healthy. With training camp right around the corner, all signs point to a coveted Ezekiel Elliott resurgence as the big ice cube that now chills the drink. The blue Kool-Aid tastes fine at room temperature but is oh so much better chilled.