With Ezekiel Elliott sidelined due to an injury for the first time in his career, Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard was thrust into the spotlight. On the Cowboys’ second possession, Pollard immediately made an impact through the air and on the ground. Pollard caught two passes for 16 yards, setting himself up to score the game’s first touchdown.
Pollard continued to show his ability as a receiving threat throughout the first half. In the closing seconds of the first quarter, he caught a simple swing pass and turned it into a 30 yard gain.
Tony Pollard deserves more playing time. He’s been a significantly more productive player than Zeke this year pic.twitter.com/Yml8lXihmS— tae kim (@firstadopter) December 20, 2020
After a red-hot start, Pollard started to slow down, especially on the ground. Before his game-sealing 40-yard touchdown run, Pollard ran the ball five times for just nine yards. If you take away his two biggest plays, he had a combined 19 touches on the day for 52 yards. That’s an average of 2.7 yards per play. However, the only run people will remember is the one that put this victory in the books.
It’s not a knock on Pollard to mention his lack of success before the big run. Despite injuries, the 49ers still have a very talented defensive front. But everything he did today made one thing extremely clear. Pollard does need to see the field more, but to keep him at his most effective, Dallas needs to find a perfect balance in their running game.
Think back to the Minnesota game in Week 11. Dallas rushed for 180 yards as a team, by far their highest mark on the season. Ezekiel Elliott rushed the ball 21 times for 103 yards. Tony Pollard rushed it just five times for 60 yards, but one was another game-changing touchdown run, much like the one he broke Sunday afternoon.
21 to 5 is too far of a difference between Pollard and Elliott’s carriers. Pollard has shown enough that he deserves to get 10 to 13 touches on the ground per game. The key is, Dallas needs to find a way to use those 10 to 13 runs at the right time.
Far too many times we’ve seen the Cowboys go with the philosophy of just sitting Elliott out for a series and making Pollard the primary guy. This is not a good way to play to the strengths of both of your runners.
Say you run Zeke and he has a couple of three or four yard runs in a row, take advantage of the toll his powerful running takes on a defense physically and put Pollard in there to try to break a big one. Giving Pollard more runs also will help Elliott. It will give him a chance to be more rested at the end of games when he’s needed most.
Pollard also needs to be used as a receiver much more. With the lack of burst we’ve seen from Elliott, it does not make sense to have him in to catch simple swing/dump-off passes. Elliott has caught 45 passes this season and is yet to break one over 19 yards. It does not play to his strength to have him in there to catch these short passes. Let Pollard take over that role. Heck, put both of them on the field at the same time. That will make things even more difficult for defenses to defend.
Like it or not, Ezekiel Elliott is going to be a Dallas Cowboy for the near future. It’s completely fair to be against the large contract he received, but he’s still a much better player than he gets credit for. Think back to the Pollard run against Minnesota mentioned before. Elliott played a big part in setting up that run by running so physical and breaking down the Vikings’ defense. With a healthy offensive line in 2021, Zeke will likely have a big-time bounce-back season.
Tony Pollard’s an extremely exciting player, but he’s not ready to take on the role of being a full-time feature back. That’s not what he’s built to, or was ever meant to be. What he is very capable of is being a perfect complement to Zeke.
Dallas has two talented runners that have very different skill sets. So far this season, they’ve done a poor job complementing the two. As we head into 2021, it’s up to the Cowboys to figure out the perfect balance to maximize both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard’s full potential.