Coming off of a close win against the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday, all eyes are on the backfield after Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 180 yards on the ground, 237 total yards from scrimmage, eleven first downs, and two touchdowns.
I wanted to see what a deep dive into the stats would tell us about the Chargers' game and the first two games of the season. Because two games is such a small sample size, I also looked at some advanced stats for the 2020 season. Here’s the story the stats are telling…
7ish Man Fronts
Both Zeke and Pollard have faced 6, 7, and 8 man fronts this season. Zeke faced a 9 man front once against Tampa. Over Pollard’s 15 rushes (I removed the final carry against Tampa for purposes of this section) he has faced an average of 6.7 men in the box while Zeke has faced an average of 7.2 in the box over 27 rushes. This might feel insignificant but it shows that when Zeke is rushing the ball, defenses are showing a tendency to lean towards playing the run but only slightly more than when Pollard is in the backfield.
Traditional Single Back Formations
Both Zeke and Pollard have run two thirds of their total rushes out of traditional single back looks with Dak under center. Surprisingly, we’ve only run play action from these looks on ten plays with eight of them coming against TB when we were not running the ball well. The rest of their runs came out of shotgun sets.
A Few Random Bits of Info
Of Pollard's 16 carries, 10 have been inside rushes for 76 yards (61% of his total yards) with the remaining 6 rushes going outside for 47 yards. Zeke has gained 85 yards on 19 interior runs and 18 yards on 8 outside runs.
We’ve rushed the ball 7 times on third down with the split going 5-2 favoring Zeke.
We’ve rushed the ball 10 times when needing 3 yards or less with the split going 7-3 in favor of Zeke. The Cowboys converted 5/10 with Zeke picking up 3 first downs and Pollard picking up 2.
Looking at the advanced stats, the most glaring difference between Zeke and Pollard is in the yards after contact category with Pollard gaining 4.3 yards after contact per attempt (Yac/Att) compared to just 1.6 for Zeke. With a larger sample size, Zeke and Pollards numbers are much more comparable. In 2020, Pollard gained 2.5 Yac/Att with Zeke just behind him at 2.1 Yac/Att.
So what does all of this raw data mean?
A Fast Start
Pollard is off to a fast start. There’s no way to predict what Pollard will do over the remainder of the season but he is making the most of his opportunities which includes breaking off runs of 16, 23, and 28 yards against the Chargers. It’s likely that he will continue to break off runs that allow him to compete with Zeke in total yards.
Zeke and Pollard Gain Yards in Similar Ways
It’s easy to think that Pollard’s yards are coming in change of pace running situations that have him running off the edge. The stats simply don’t support that. Both Pollard and Zeke are seeing the majority of their carries come from traditional single back formations. Both Zeke and Pollard have earned the majority of the yards on runs inside the tackles.
Zeke is the Undisputed Work Horse
Zeke is still the work horse even if he’s splitting carries. Zeke has played a total of 114 snaps compared to Pollards 41 snaps. This is due to the confidence the team has in Zeke’s ability to defend against the blitz. And while Pollard has been good in pass protection, Zeke’s experience and consistency has kept him in the game far more often in passing situations.
Although the stat show that Pollard is definitely making the case for more touches, Dallas seems to have a nice balance between Zeke and Pollard. There doesn’t seem to be a pressing need to do anything drastic like change who is starting or how carries are distributed. Outside of Zeke getting injured, I do not see Pollard getting significantly more touches than Zeke in the near future. However, if Pollard continues to do what he’s done early this season, we could see him with more touches by the second half of the season.