Ezekiel Elliott was absolutely fantastic on Sunday in the Dallas Cowboys 26-24 win over the Detroit Lions. I haven’t seen a Cowboys team ride a guy to victory since Emmitt Smith helped them win the division in the season finale against the New York Giants back in 1993. Most of have heard of that story, if you didn’t watch it yourselves, where Smith would battle through a shoulder injury to help the Cowboys pull out a 16-13 overtime win. The mothership recently did a documentary on it.
Smith carried the ball 32 times for 168 yards and caught the ball 10 times for another 61 yards, totaling 229 scrimmage yards. The victory gave the Cowboys the no. 1 seed in the NFC, helping them pave the way for the second of two-straight Super Bowl Championships. It was a performance for the ages.
Ezekiel Elliott was used in a similar capacity on Sunday
Jason Garrett would channel his ‘90s Cowboys team and leverage heavily on his star running back on Sunday. Zeke finished the game with a career-high 240 scrimmage yards. 152 of those were on the ground, while he added 88 more as a receiver. It was an all-around exceptional game by Zeke.
There is a lot to love about what we saw from Elliott on Sunday. For starters, this kid is extremely durable. There were a handful of times where it appeared Zeke came up gimpy and headed over to the sideline. Rod Smith would come in for a play or two, but then Zeke was back out there ready to make another amazing play. When you look around the NFL and see running backs all over the league ailing right now, it makes you appreciate Elliott’s durability.
Leonard Fournette (hamstring), Dalvin Cook (hamstring), Devonta Freeman (knee), Joe Mixon (knee), and LeSean McCoy (ribs) have all missed time this season due to injury and we’re just a quarter of the way through the season. Zeke hasn’t missed a single game in his NFL career due to injury.
While his toughness provides a welcoming availability that we all can enjoy on Sundays, it’s what Elliott actually does on the field that has us impressed. Zeke is a do-it-all running back. He can get you the dirty yards and he can be electrifying in space. He has the patience to wait for his blocks, and he has the burst to exploit them. He can grind out rushing yards all day, but he can also be a weapon as a receiver as well. Zeke’s 38-yard touchdown reception against the Lions on Sunday marks the third-straight season he’s taken a big screen play to the house.
And let’s not forget that amazing over the shoulder catch he had on that wheel route late in the fourth quarter.
Zeke’s receiving skills shined bright against Detroit
While Elliott has done some damage as a receiver, it was the first time in his career that damage was done with his hands and not his legs.
Ezekiel Elliott's decisive 34-yard reception on the Cowboys' final drive was his first time being targeted 10+ yards downfield. pic.twitter.com/ACCAszJEMG— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 1, 2018
This third quarter run by Zeke illustrates how he’s so good at so many different things.
Big boy run from Ezekiel Elliott. Whew. pic.twitter.com/WNCJZZB2X5— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) October 1, 2018
First, he has the awareness to stutter-step to avoid being tackled in the backfield. Then, he finds his running lane and explodes through the hole. He then uses his track-and-field star skills to hurdle a defender and he’s off to the races for a big chuck of a yards. Then, my favorite part, he uses his power to make sure it takes the defensive back a good seven yards to bring him down. As Garrett would say, he’s just a really good football player.
Zeke is currently leading the league in rushing and to be honest, it’s not even close.
NFL Rushing Leaders:— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) October 1, 2018
1. Ezekiel Elliott............. 426 yards
2. Todd Gurley.............. 338 yards
3. Matt Breida............... 313 yards
4. Marshawn Lynch...... 300 yards
5. Carlos Hyde.............. 285 yards pic.twitter.com/gn3H7jpOuP
Elliott has been one of the great running backs since the first moment that he came into the league. After Sunday’s performance, Zeke’s already eclipsed the 3,000 yards rushing mark. Only one player has reached it faster and it’s that Hall of Fame running back who broke the NFL single-season rushing record his second year in the league... maybe you’ve heard of him?
Ezekiel Elliott crossed the 3,000 rushing yards mark today in his 29th career game. He's now tied with Clinton Portis as the 2nd fastest to 3,000 rushing yards.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 30, 2018
Eric Dickerson was the fastest, getting to 3,000 in his 27th game.
While Elliott is off to a fast start career-wise, he’s just now reaching the point in the season where he starts to really take off. For example:
- In his first two games of the year (2016, 2017, and 2018), he’s averaged 65 yards per game.
- In his next two games (2016, 2017, and 2018), he’s averaged 120 yards per game.
- In the two games following (2016 and 2017), he’s averaged 138 yards per game.
I don’t know if it’s his lack of reps in the preseason to preserve his health or if it’s the fact that the Cowboys have always had a couple new offensive line starters in each of Zeke’s years in the league, but he always starts slow only to turn it up about this time of the season. Ezekiel Elliott is just getting warmed up.
With Elliott’s 152-yard rushing performance on Sunday, he now has an average of 104.8 yards per game in his NFL career. That moves him ahead of Jim Brown for the all-time lead.
Officially, Zeke doesn’t qualify to be on this list until he hits 750 rushing attempts. He only has 637 career attempts right now, but he should make it official somewhere near the midpoint of the season as long as he doesn’t dip below an average of 104 yards during those next few games.
Let’s continue to feed Zeke
The Cowboys will continue to put the ball in the hands of their best offensive playmaker. When the ground game is flowing, the game moves a lot slower for Dak Prescott. When the defense is loading the box, the secondary becomes a lot less congested for the receivers. Good things happen when Zeke’s on a roll.
If the Cowboys keep winning football games and Zeke continues to play like he has so far, you could be looking at your next league MVP. Elliott finished fourth in voting in 2016 after a great rookie season where he led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards. His greatness was overshadowed a bit by his fellow rookie teammate Dak Prescott who had a phenomenal season as well. Some weren’t sure if it was Dak or Zeke carrying this team to a 13-3 record, but there shouldn’t be much mystery about who the leader of this offense is now.
All of this not withstanding, but Zeke’s production was also downplayed due to the Cowboys strong offensive line. Ron Leary and Doug Free have since parted and Travis Frederick has yet to play a snap this year. The Cowboys have three new pieces to their offensive line since Zeke’s rookie season, yet Elliott appears to not be suffering any ill effects.
People can try to make cases against him all they want, but he’s the real deal.