November wasn’t kind to the Dallas Cowboys. They have lost three out of four games in the month and are playing nothing like the team we witnessed go on a six-game win streak earlier this year. They need to get back to their winning ways in a hurry, otherwise, 2021 could turn into yet another disappointing season for them.
One player who struggled in November was Ezekiel Elliott. A knee injury was dogging him for all of November, and his production slipped. It wasn’t all his fault, the uneven play of Dak Prescott, and the regressions of the offensive line played their part. But the specter of Elliott’s knee injury has been hanging over the running game. So much so that a rumor came out earlier this week that the Cowboys may rest Elliott for a game to help get the knee right.
That doesn’t sound like the case if Jerry Jones is to be believed.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says RB Ezekiel Elliott is "practicing well and we think he’ll be ready to go.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 30, 2021
"The facts are we expect him to have a serious load against New Orleans," Jerry tells @1053thefan.
It would be an important step back to their winning ways if they could get the running game going. In six out of seven of the Cowboys wins this year they rushed for over 100 yards, the only exception is the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8. On the flip side though, all four of their losses feature a sub-100-yard game.
Obviously the 100-yard mark is somewhat arbitrary and so many things go into a running game succeeding. Grabbing an early lead and milking the clock helps. When you run in the game, and on what downs can play a factor. And it’s all at the whim of the offensive line, which truly controls everything in the running game. Throw in Elliott’s injury on top, and the recent absences of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, and the Cowboys run game has stalled.
For the majority of the season Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard formed one of the best running back duos in the entire league, but no longer.
Prior to the Cowboys Week 7 bye week, both Elliott and Tony Pollard were top five running backs in Next Gen Stats’ rushing efficiency metric. Since then, Zeke has been in the top 20 just once and Pollard not at all. Because of that, Dallas’ offense has been forced to play behind the chains more, which has severely handicapped the productivity.
Elliott’s knee injury has been a big focus for some of the decline; it’s not hard to see that he is not as explosive as he was earlier in the season. Despite the Cowboys struggles to run the ball, Pollard really hasn’t seen an increased workload. The whispers saying that Elliott might rest this week against the Saints seem to be wrong, at least in Jerry Jones’ mind.
And this week might not be the opportune time to rely on the running game. The New Orleans Saints are very hard to run on as noted by BTB’s Aidan Davis. This is a week that the possible return of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, should they play, means Dallas will take advantage of a secondary in New Orleans that can be had.
Whether or not Pollard sees an increase in playing time with Elliott banged up, the Cowboys absolutely must figure out a way to be more productive when they run. This team may not share the same run-first mentality as they did under the tutelage of Jason Garrett, but they still need to find an effective running game once again. The Cowboys still rank seventh in rushing yards per game, and their yards per carry number still ranks in the top ten, but those number were built earlier in the year. They have fallen recently.
Instead of looking at the volume of rushing yards the Cowboys get against a stingy Saints run defense, we’ll look for improved efficiency. And if Elliott isn’t getting it done, the team should definitely turn to Pollard for the time being.