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After further review: Ezekiel Elliott’s fumbling isn’t something that should be a concern going forward

Let’s go to the tape and examine each fumble, shall we?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are having a rough year as there are so many things not going right for this football team. They just remodeled most of their coaching staff, and with all the new changes that brings, a rocky transition is expected. While time will tell whether these changes will ultimately be a good thing or a bad thing, things are real bad right now.

Then, there are the enormous amount of injuries the Cowboys have endured this year. Not only in quantity, but in quality as many of their top guys are out for the season. Sure, every team deals with injuries, but it should be noted that this Cowboys team has been hit especially hard this season.

And while the coaching is suspect and the health is a disaster, the chronic terribleness of this football team doesn’t stop there. The players playing just aren’t playing well. Two players who receive a lot of heat for the Cowboys inability to win games are Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith. In fact, former Cowboy/apparent talent scout Dez Bryant took to twitter with a backhanded shot at Zeke and Jaylon.

That’s a harsh statement to make about a couple former teammates (which might be why it was deleted shortly thereafter), but it’s a sentiment many fans actually have. Smith has had moments where he’s looked just awful, and with Elliott having trouble holding on to the football, he’s not gaining many new fans these days.

People have been extremely critical of Zeke as he’s being counted on to carry this offense after losing Dak Prescott to a season ending injury. Elliott has fumbled the ball five times this season, with four of them resulting in turnovers. And in each of those instances, their opponents have capitalized by scoring touchdowns on their ensuring drive, further highlighting the detriment of those fumbles.

While this is something Elliott needs to work on improving, some are taking this fumbling issue too far. Suggesting he’s had a fumbling problem his entire career or that he should be benched might just be the emotions talking.

I would go even further to suggest, that while Elliott’s fumbles this season are unfortunate, it’s not quite as reckless as some are making it out to be. To better understand this, we offer up a bonus edition of After Further Review as we take at look at each of his fumbles this season to get a better feel of what went down.

FUMBLE #1 - Week 2, Atlanta Falcons

It’s really tough to say what caused the ball to come out on this play. Initially, it just looks as if Elliott collides into his blockers and just loses control of the ball. And that very well could be the case. It’s also a possibility that a Falcons defender (maybe Foye Oluokun?) punches the ball out.

Verdict: Whatever the root cause, this is a case of poor ball security from Elliott.

FUMBLE #2 - Week 2, Atlanta Falcons

Elliott was lucky to jump on that first fumble, but then two plays later, the ball was one the turf again. This time, we got a clear look at it, and Oluokun definitely got his fist in there and punched it out. Zeke was being tackled and as he pushed forward, he was slow to get his other hand in position to better secure the ball.

Verdict: Again, the ball security needs to be better there. It’s worth noting the Cowboys had four fumbles in this game, and it would’ve been five had a booth review not ruled that Tony Pollard’s knee was down on the Cowboys second play from scrimmage. The Falcons were punching at the ball like crazy, knocking the ball out of the arms of Elliott, Pollard, and even Dalton Schultz later in the game. While a better job needs to be done protecting the ball, this was not limited to Zeke on this day.

FUMBLE #3 - Week 4, Cleveland Browns

As what’s happened quite a bit this season, as soon as something positive happens for the Cowboys offense, something happens to spoil it. On this play, Elliott gets to the outside and finds the seam for a nice 24-yard run, only to then cough the ball up. As Zeke was being tackled, he actually rolls over on a defender, keeping the play live. The defender actually goes after Zeke’s hand, pulling away at his grip, which ultimately causes the ball to come loose. And because Elliott was never technically down, it was correctly ruled a fumble.

Elliott talked to the press after that game, and explained how this situation was a little different.

“Once I rolled over and my butt was on his head, I kind of eased up, and that gave him an opportunity to take the ball out.”

He also re-iterated that he has to do a better job protecting the ball.

“I just got to focus, and work on it in practice in making sure I’m keeping that ball tight, and put a little extra emphasis on it.”

Verdict: While Elliott’s explanation makes sense, so does his conclusion. The unique situation of this play doesn’t excuse him from not securing the ball better.

FUMBLE #4 - Week 6, Arizona Cardinals

Late in the first quarter against the Cardinals, the Cowboys offense looked like they had something cooking in a scoreless battle when they moved the ball to midfield. As Andy Dalton was trying to escape pressure, he flung to ball to Elliott. In a split second, it looked as if the Cowboys had a shot to make something of it, but a trailing Budda Baker was right there to put a stop to that.

Elliott never put the ball away. In his defense, it happened so fast and it’s possible his eyes got real big after seeing the daylight he had ahead of him.

Verdict: It’s hard to be too critical of Elliott on this broken play as he only had a split second to react, and this is a perfect example of “trying to do too much.” Elliott saw an opportunity for a big play, and as a result his ability to secure the ball took a backseat.

FUMBLE #5 - Week 6, Arizona Cardinals

Elliott’s day went from bad to worse because the very next time he touched the ball, he put it on the ground again. As he was trying to hit the hole, he collided with Cardinals lineman Jordan Phillips, and the ball came loose.

At this point, the announcing crew pointed out what many of us were thinking and that’s Elliott’s funk had gotten into his head as it reached a level of absurdity. If you slow things down on this play, it appeared that Zeke tries to get through this hole, but rubbed his right hand across Connor McGovern, causing Elliott to lose control before he’s hit by Phillips.

Verdict: Whether he runs into his own man or not, Elliott’s ball security is not good enough and this turnover should’ve never happened.

CONCLUSION

Elliott hasn’t done a good job taking care of the ball, and nothing on the tape suggests otherwise. Looking closely at each of these plays does show a handful of different scenarios that better explain why the ball came loose. This does not excuse Zeke in any way, but at the same time, it’s not something that is as alarming as his season fumbling stat sounds. This isn’t like the Demarco Murray fumbling dilemma of 2014 that saw him lose five fumbles through the first eight games of the year. Murray’s issue was technique as he regularly swung his arms out wide to help build up speed. This made him vulnerable to having the ball stripped. Murray did improve and never fumbled in any of the remaining regular season games, but the same problem resurfaced in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers when he was stripped by Julius Peppers. That proved costly.

When it comes to Elliott, technique isn’t the issue. He does need to keep his focus throughout the entire duration of the play. And all the Cowboys players need to be cautious about “doing too much” as they fight through tough situations. This team just lost its quarterback on a freak play where Dak Prescott tried to stiff arm the defender, so sometimes not doing too much is easier said than done. While the fumbling has been upsetting, there is nothing about Elliott that makes this something to be worried about going forward.