Raise your hand if you thought Ezekiel Elliott had lost a step coming off a down season in 2020. Come on now, don’t be shy. Considering the short shelf life of a running back in the NFL, it’s only natural to believe Zeke is going to break down sooner or later. However, that doesn’t mean it happened last year, despite what the stats said.
No. 21 never quite looked like himself at just about any point of the 2020 season. He looked almost lethargic running the ball last year, almost as if his burst/explosiveness had suddenly disappeared. Not to mention the fumbling problems. It was so bad, in fact, many were calling for Tony Pollard to take over the lead role and that way of thinking continued heading into 2021.
It’s easy to forget Zeke was running behind an offensive line that was decimated by injuries last season. Regardless of position, it was pretty much a revolving door across the offensive line last year due to injuries. Only Connor Williams remained healthy and started all 16 games last year. Because of that, the entire offense suffered, not just Zeke.
Another factor was that no one was scared of the Cowboys quarterbacks last year after Dak Prescott went down. The revolving door of backups meant defenses were free to key in on Zeke and the running game and take their chances on the Cowboys passing game.
It’s also important to know Zeke’s carries dipped quite a bit last year. He surprisingly only had 244 rushing attempts in 2020, which is the lowest of his career except for his shortened 2017 season in which he was suspended six games. With the exception of 2017 and 2020, he’s had at least 300 rushing attempts, all of which he rushed for well over 1,000 yards.
Elliott didn’t quite look like himself last year, and there were other factors that played a role in his dip in production a season ago. While outside factors played a role, there was also a recognition by Zeke that he needed to to do some work on his own game. It wasn’t totally external factors that were holding him back. All of the work he put in this offseason to improve his quickness and conditioning is paying off and should continue to do so throughout the year.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of RB Ezekiel Elliott on @1053thefan: "There's no question that what you put in in spring, what you put in in training camp, that's what you get out during the season. He put it in during the offseason, and it's paying dividends for him."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 5, 2021
In this is new season, with the slate having been wiped clean, he’s absolutely ballin’!
Through the first four weeks of the 2021 season No. 21 looks much more like the Zeke of old we have all come to know and love. So far this year he’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 85.5 yards a game. He’s also coming off his best game where he rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown against a Carolina defense who was only giving up 45 yards a game.
The season is still young and there’s a lot of football left to play this year, but even with Tony Pollard more involved, it’s reasonable to believe Zeke will once again hit the 1000-yard mark this year and be an instrumental piece to the Cowboys success.
Don’t be surprise at all if he’s in contention once again for being the league’s leading rusher when all is said and done. Even if he’s not, we can go ahead and put all the “lost a step” talk to bed.