With their Week 17 loss to their Arizona Cardinals, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t left with much to play for in their season finale this Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles. For the Cowboys not to enter the NFC playoffs as the No. 4 seed, they would need losses by the Rams and Cardinals combined with a Cowboys and Buccaneers win, or all three teams to lose and Dallas to win. So yeah, pretty much not happening.
Despite being virtually locked into the 4 seed, Mike McCarthy came out on Monday and stated that he will not be resting his starters in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn’t plan to rest starters in Saturday’s season finale at Eagles. “We’re going to play to win the game. …We’re going to Philadelphia, and we’re going to line up to do what we need to do in order to win the game.”— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 3, 2022
While McCarthy did commit to not resting his starters completely and playing to win the game, there's one player, Ezekiel Elliott, whose status the head coach did not reveal.
Mike McCarthy while saying the Cowboys are going to Philly to win he’ll know more about Zeke Elliott’s status on Wednesday.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) January 3, 2022
Elliott stated today that he intends to play in Saturday’s game, but ultimately the decision comes down to what the team decides is best.
Zeke Elliott, asked about resting in Philly: “Nah, I’m playing this week.”— David Helman (@HelmanDC) January 4, 2022
McCarthy’s unwillingness to commit to Elliott playing in the games shows there is at least some consideration to resting the 26-year-old running back in the season finale. However, it shouldn’t be a decision that requires much thought. Elliott should not play in Saturday’s game, period.
The former All-Pro is currently going through the toughest statistical stretch of his NFL career. In Elliott’s first six games of the season, he rushed for 521 yards on 102 attempts, a 5.11 Y/A average. In the last ten games, Elliott has failed to reach his rushing total from the first six, running the ball 117 times for 394 yards with an abysmal 3.37 Y/A average.
As a team, the Cowboys have really struggled to run the ball since the bye week. In the first six weeks of the season, Dallas averaged a league-high 164 rushing yards per game. Since the bye week, that total has gone down to just 96 rushing yards per game and the team’s rush EPA of -0.138 is the eighth-worst in all of football.
It’s not fair to put all the blame on Elliott for the lack of success in the running game, but his nagging knee injury certainly has played a big role. From Week 9 through Week 13, Elliott looked like a shell of himself. Despite gutting it out and playing every week, it was clear his knee was holding him back, causing an extreme drop in explosiveness. However, over the last four games, as Elliott has gotten healthier, we’ve seen some flashes of the running back we saw in the first six weeks of the season.
Resting Elliott in the season finale is not going to magically fix the Cowboys’ running game struggles or bring back their early-season success on the ground, but it would give the former All-Pro at least 12 days off before the Cowboys first playoff game. For a guy who’s taken a beating like Elliott has for six seasons straight, that could be some very useful rest.
With the way Elliott, and the Cowboys running game as a whole, are currently performing it’s not like if he does not play in the game they have no chance to win. Tony Pollard and Corey Clement can hold their own for one week, and it might help the Cowboys in the present and in the future.
If Dallas wants to make a deep postseason run, they’ll need Ezekiel Elliott to contribute in some way. Resting him in the season finale and giving him nearly two weeks' rest before a playoff game is the best way to potentially make that happen.