After an offseason of workout videos and pictures showing a trimmed down Ezekiel Elliott the former Pro Bowl running back failed to eclipse 50 yards rushing during the Cowboys season opener Thursday.
Elliott finished the game with 33 yards on 11 carries, along with two receptions for six yards. The lackluster performance has many wondering just what expectations should be placed on the back as he posted his 10th consecutive game without 100 yards rushing.
The simple answer is no. Dallas should not be concerned from what they saw from Elliott Thursday. Not only was he facing the premier run defense in the NFL, but the offense excelled without him having to carry a large workload.
There is a misconception that Dallas is still built like the 2014 and 2016 team that dominated the NFL during the regular season and nearly produced a pair of 2,000-yard backs.
However, that’s not the case. This is Dak Prescott’s team and he proved Thursday just how much can be put on his shoulders. Prescott threw the ball 58 times and his only interception came from a dropped pass by CeeDee Lamb.
The days of needing Elliott to touch the ball 30 times is done. This isn’t the same coaching staff who drafted him in 2016, nor is this the same offense that warrants its running backs to be 150-yard rushers.
The positives of Elliott’s performance Thursday was though he wasn’t finding running room, it didn’t impact his effort in pass blocking. Also, remember the days where Prescott was finishing games with 200 yards passing?
He nearly topped that in the first half alone. In 2019, seven of the Cowboys eight losses came when Elliott rushed for under 100 yards.
During the 2018 season, five of their six regular season losses came when Elliott was held under 100 yards rushing. In that season’s NFC Divisional round against the LA Rams, where they lost 30-22, Elliott was held to 47 yards rushing.
Though many people will continue to question why Dallas paid Elliott to have the same impact as a Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook or Alvin Kamara, the simple fact is that they no longer need him to be.
You have two first-round talents in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, along with Michael Gallup who could arguably be a second receiver for most teams in the league.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted that this offense isn’t as predictable as just letting Elliott eat. And it’s even more impressive Prescott has seemingly taking over the reigns as the lead horse of this offense.
Though Elliott isn’t impacted the box score, his past years of dominance still forces defensive coordinators to account for him, which continues to open up the passing lanes for Dak.