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Cowboys game ball for the pre-bye (5-1) part of the season

Plenty of candidates to choose from, but who gets the coveted game ball?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are putting the bye week behind them and beginning preparations for their Week 8 game against the Minnesota Vikings. But before we move on to that, we decided to take a look back at the first six games of the seasons and award a game ball. This is actually a tricky exercise based on your definition of a game ball winner. In this case, it’s not simply the best player on the team for the first six weeks. And it's not the guy who has the biggest stats or record-producing moments. Instead, we’re going to give the game ball to a player who should be lauded for a few different reasons and is producing at the same time.

If the game ball was going to go to the most valuable player, then you would just have to give it to Dak Prescott. The Cowboys quarterback has built on his promising start from the 2020 season and has ascended to the elite of quarterbacks in the NFL. There are just so many statistical markers we could point to that prove Prescott is playing in rarified air, and we have published some of those in places like this and this.

There is no getting around the fact that Prescott is the Cowboys most indispensable player and is elite. But that should have been apparent to observers before this point. The 2020 season was more proof of how good Prescott is as his numbers through the first five games were mind-boggling. Even before that, the numbers have been astounding for Prescott, it just took the rest of the team, mainly the defense, to catch up. We recognize his greatness, but it seem to be there all the time and was being dismissed in some quarters.

Another great candidate for the game ball is Trevon Diggs. It’s hard to argue with seven interceptions in six games with two of them going to the house. He’s also put up phenomenal coverage numbers when asked to shadow the top receivers in the league. Last year, we saw he had the makings to be something special, but he just hadn’t put it all together yet. He got his hands on plenty of passes in 2020 but couldn’t hold on to most of them. This year, no such problem. Yes, he still will occasionally give up the big play, but that is what happens with aggressive, ball-hawk corners, sometimes things go wrong. It’s something you live with because the turnovers and mostly lockdown play are so valuable.

Those two are probably the common answers for who deserves the game ball for the first part of the Cowboys season. Other guys who are at least in the conversation include CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz and Micah Parsons. They have all done exceptional things this year and are proving their worth in various ways.

But we’re going to give the game ball to Ezekiel Elliott. We realize that some of these other guys may be more deserving based on production, or standout moments, etc. But we’re going with Zeke for a few different reasons.

The Comeback

Plenty of observers had written Zeke off after a down 2020 season. His production plummeted, his burst had seem to leave him, and he started to look like a broken-down running back who had just taken too much pounding and was now entering the pedestrian phase of his career. Combined with his out-sized contract, Elliott was taking a lot of abuse (I’m guilty as charged).

Plenty of other guys might have just coasted along getting their paycheck and churning out 3.5 yards per carry. Instead, Zeke re-made himself this offseason by losing weight and getting tutoring help in returning to form. That is worthy of admiration.

The Production

As of the moment this is being written, Elliott is fifth in rushing yards in the NFL. He is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt, that ranks third in the league for running backs in the top ten of total yards, proving it’s not just volume, but efficiency. Only Derrick Henry and James Connor have more touchdowns on the ground than Zeke’s five. Elliott ranks fourth overall in rushing yards per game and is tied for third in rushing first downs.

Frankly, Elliott has made this offense balanced once again. As has been talked about many times, the Cowboys offense just takes what the defense gives them, and one of the reasons why is Elliott is punishing defenses once again. He is making teams pick their poison and Prescott is capitalizing. Everything runs smoother when your running game is working.

The Intangibles

Is there a better pass-protection running back in the league than Elliott? This is such an underrated skill in the NFL where picking up blitzes can lead to huge plays and keep your quarterback healthy. Zeke excels here.

Last year Elliott had a case of the yips, fumbling the ball early and often in the 2020 season. This year? Zero fumbles. He said he was going to fix that and he has. Zeke has not put the ball on the carpet.

This year, Tony Pollard is being used more, taking away some of Zeke’s carries. Still, no yapping from Zeke about needing to be fed more, he is playing unselfish football along with the rest of his team.

Zeke has also chipped in 16 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. He is catching his targets at an 80% clip and has contributed seven first downs through the air.

Overall

He’s not having the best statistical year of his career in some ways, and there are other players eclipsing him in terms of being the star for the team. But for all of the things listed above that he is doing for the team and for himself, Elliott deserves recognition. So we’re giving him our game ball for the first six weeks of the 2021 season.