The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a couple of weeks ago and in the aftermath of it many people wondered why the team didn’t run the ball more. Collectively the Cowboys ran it 18 times against the Buccaneers with Ezekiel Elliott leading the way with 11 carries to his name. Tony Pollard chipped in three while Dak Prescott registered four.
Things were very different against the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday. The game allowed for more opportunities on the ground which Kellen Moore leaned into. While Elliott once again led the way with 16 carries, Tony Pollard’s usage increased as he ran 13 times and did so more successfully than anyone.
team pass rate changes from week 1 to week 2 pic.twitter.com/MQ2gOfvArH— Dan (@danmorse_) September 20, 2021
There is no question that Tony Pollard was the more effective runner of the Cowboys tandem and no doubt that he has more than justified a serious role for himself in the offense. Pollard finished with 109 yards to Elliott’s 71, averaging almost twice as many yards per attempt (8.4 to 4.4).
Discussions like this one often turn into arguments for one player over the other. We can appreciate that both Elliott and Pollard offer different things that are of use to the Cowboys, as an example Elliott is a superior blocker, but it seems apparent that Pollard is the more efficient ball-carrier.
In fact, Tony Pollard was one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL in Week 2.
PFF: Tony Pollard had the second-highest rushing grade in Week 2
Mike McCarthy said on Monday that the Cowboys awarded their offensive game ball to Tony Pollard (we did the same here at BTB!). Not only was he the best running back on the Cowboys in their pivotal win against the Chargers, but Pollard was one of the best backs across the league this week.
Judging by PFF’s rushing grades for Week 2 only one running back had a better performance than Pollard in Week 2 - Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.
The performance from Pollard was good enough to see him rank as second in PFF’s rushing grades through the first two weeks of the season as a whole (an admittedly small sample size). While Pollard falls at number two through as many weeks Ezekiel Elliott is currently not even inside the top 40.
**Touches**— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 19, 2021
Ezekiel Elliott - 18
Tony Pollard - 16
**10+ yard plays**
Ezekiel Elliott - 2
Tony Pollard - 5
**Carries of 1 yard or fewer**
Ezekiel Elliott - 6
Tony Pollard - 0
Again this is a grade of the rushing performance of running backs which doesn’t qualify who they are in an entire sense. It is obviously frustrating that the Cowboys have $90M devoted to a running back who might not be the best runner on their team, but the past is the past at this point. We don’t need to stress ourselves out.
Back to that question though, is it even arguable than Tony Pollard is the superior runner on the Cowboys? He is without question the more explosive of the two and far more capable of ripping off big gains.
Consider the final offensive possession of the game for the Cowboys. We can debate how much sense running the ball made there as a whole (let’s just focus on the fact that Dallas won), but Elliott carried the ball on the first play and lost a yard. Pollard was handed the ball three plays later and picked up five. This is one small example, but these small examples continue to happen over and over and over.
Since 2019...— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 20, 2021
Elliott - 572
Pollard - 203
**20+ yard carries**
Elliott - 7
Pollard - 10
In fact, let’s take a look at how the two runners fared on the final two possessions of the game for the Cowboys, admittedly important ones with enormous consequences that both ended with field goals that were extremely important:
- Tony Pollard: 5 carries, 37 yards, 7.4 YPA
- Ezekiel Elliott: 4 carries, 7 yards, 1.8 YPA
To repeat ourselves, this is a really small sample size in a vacuum, but they were two drives of critical importance for the Cowboys. There is no denying who the more important/valuable/efficient/whatever else you want to say player was for them in the run game.
None of this is to say that Elliott doesn’t offer the Cowboys anything or isn’t deserving of a roster spot. He is an incredible asset in the passing game as he is the last line of defense that is very often necessary when it comes to protecting Dak Prescott.
We have seen the Cowboys coaching staff incorporate Tony Pollard more which is a very positive sign, but evidence suggests that he should be involved at an even higher frequency.
Time will tell how they choose to handle this.