The Cowboys of 2018 are known for their ability to run the football.
Dallas boasts the best offensive line across the National Football League. They have all-world running back Ezekiel Elliott leading the way. Rod Smith is a capable backup. Tavon Austin is going to be a nice change-of-pace option. Guys like Bo Scarborough and/or Darius Jackson could present interesting alternatives. The talent is undeniable.
Despite a suspension to Zeke last season that sidelined him for six games, the Cowboys still finished second as a team in terms of rushing yards (Jacksonville edged them out by 92 yards). A year prior, the Cowboys were runner-up as well, trailing only the Buffalo Bills. 2015 wasn’t as great of a year statistically, but we all know why.
With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone the Cowboys are likely going to be even more all-in on running the ball than they have been in seasons past. Perhaps this is part of their idea to make things more “Dak-friendly”, but regardless, it’s undeniable that they are going to feed Zeke and the group a lot.
ESPN recently projected how each team will fare in the run game, and they believe Dallas will boast the fifth-best overall rushing attack. It’s worth noting they only factored in Zeke, Tavon, and Rod Smith.
Projected unit stats: 398 carries, 1,730 yards, 14 TDs; 73 receptions, 634 yards, 3 TDs
Outlook: Since Elliott arrived in 2016, the Dallas backfield ranks first in the NFL in rushing attempts (839), first in rushing yards (3,757), fifth in rushing touchdowns (30) and third in yards per carry (4.5). On the other hand, Cowboys backs haven’t done much as receivers, ranking near the bottom in most categories, including dead last in touchdown catches over the past three years (four) and decade (12). Elliott is the feature back here, but Dallas traded for Austin in April, and he’s expected to handle change-of-pace and some receiving duties. Believe it or not, Austin’s 6.7 YPC since entering the league in 2013 is best among all backs with at least 100 carries.
The projected statistics for this group is honestly quite ridiculous, especially in the yardage department. Dallas has only rushed for less than 1,800 yards as a unit once in the last five seasons, and that’s even going all the way back five years to 2013 before the Cowboys established the run-heavy identity they’re more known for today.
- 2017: 2,170
- 2016: 2,396
- 2015: 1,890
- 2014: 2,354
- 2013: 1,504
Just a few days ago here at BTB we discussed whether you would take the over or under on Ezekiel Elliott’s 2018 yardage if it was set at 1,750. This would obviously mean that Zeke would singlehandedly out-produce what ESPN has the entire unit projected to do. For what it’s worth, it was literally as close of a vote as possible, 51% believe it’ll be the over.
Will Ezekiel Elliott rush for over or under 1,750 yards in 2018?
This poll is closed
Over, I’m buying a huge year from Zeke.
Under, the Cowboys will be cautious with their star.
What’s more about this projection is that the top five teams (in order) are listed as the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, and the Dallas Cowboys. While this is an assessment as to the impact the groups will have on their teams and subsequent wins, ESPN has the Cowboys group projected to have more rushing yards than all four of the teams ahead of them.
Projections are always a difficult thing to get correct, but this one feels especially off. The Cowboys have eclipsed their projected total in each of the last four seasons, and they just added Connor Williams to their offensive line. I’d take the over on this number, too.