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What to make of the running back situation in Dallas

The Cowboys have Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, and s decision on how to utilize them.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

With the Cowboys high scoring output in Week 8 versus the Chicago Bears with Ezekiel Elliott out of the lineup, is that a sign that the franchise should go in a different direction in the backfield? There are a variety of ways to approach this situation, but there is one thing for certain, having two quality running backs on the roster is a good problem to have. Let’s breakdown this situation from a couple different angles to have a better idea at what we are looking at exactly.

Let’s talk about the financial part of this equation

Elliott, as we know, signed a monster contract extension back in 2019 which came out to $90 million over six years. Depending on which metric you look at from a financial perspective, Zeke is in the top three in just about every category when it comes to how NFL running backs are getting paid. Many thought that Zeke would set the running back market up for more backs to get bigger paydays. That just hasn’t happened as often as expected.

Kudos to Elliott and his agents for getting him that big contract when they did. Players should get as much money as they can while they are still in the league given the toll football takes on the human body. Elliott currently will not become an unrestricted free agent until his age 32 season of 2027.

Speaking of unrestricted free agency, Tony Pollard is about to be free to sign anywhere he chooses as his rookie deal signed in 2019 expires at the end of the 2022 season. Since joining the Cowboys as a fourth-rounder, Pollard is averaging about $800,000 a year. That number is certainly going to increase significantly once he hits the open market in 2023.

Elliott makes an absurd amount of money given his statistical production as of late compared to his counterpart. Pollards stats are much more appealing and a better return on investment these days. With the amount of money Pollard is expected to claim on the open market after this season, it is going to take some financial maneuvering if they want to keep paying Zeke what he’s making and to pay the new money Pollard will be commanding. It’s unlikely they can have both.

Has Ezekiel Elliott fallen off enough from a talent perspective to be supplanted by Tony Pollard?

In Week 8, Pollard showed the world what many supporters of America’s Team already knew, he is a really dynamic player who could score almost every time he gets the ball in his hands. Now obviously, that in reality isn’t going to happen, but he has something that Elliott these days doesn’t possess, and that is game-breaking ability. That isn’t a knock on Zeke, it’s more of a compliment towards the ability of Tony Pollard to hit for bigger runs these days as compared to Zeke. Elliott still is a good player who puts up solid numbers each and every game, but for the amount of money the Cowboys are paying him, solid isn’t enough in many folks eyes.

Believe it or not, Elliott is still floating around 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. The unfortunate part about Elliott’s decline is that his average rushing yards per game for his first three seasons was floating around 100. Some other names that floated around the 100 yard mark per game on the ground were guys like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. Those two were pretty good. Nowadays, Zeke averages 63.3 yards rushing each game. Players who currently possess an average similar to Zeke’s 63.3include Leonard Fournette and Melvin Gordon. Both of those players are still decent running backs in today’s game. The point is, Elliott’s first few years in the league were at such a high level, that even with the drop off being what it is on a per game basis, he is still a quality starting running back in today’s game.

For the remainder of 2022, what is the best plan of attack to best utilize both Elliott’s and Pollard’s strengths?

Both running back’s have a different style to their game and complement each other very well. The status quo has been Elliott handles just under 16 carries a game whereas Pollard handles just over 10 carries a game. This is your typical 60-40 backfield. Sure, Zeke’s runs aren’t as flashy as Pollard’s but they sure are effective. Just when the opposing defense has gotten used to Zeke’s straightforward style, bringing in a more jitterbug style of a back like Pollard can really throw off the defense. When you can throw off the defense, big plays tend to open up.

The moral of the story is let Zeke eat and soften up that opposing defense and sprinkle in Pollard for those gash plays. When done effectively, it keeps the opposing defense’s guessing. From an average yards per game perspective, both back’s log the exact same total yardage at 63.3. I cannot make that up and when I saw those numbers heading into the bye week for the first time, I honestly couldn’t believe it. The Cowboys coaching staff seems to have a plan regarding this backfield, and at this stage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

What comes after the bye week regarding this backfield duo should be an interesting development. If this duo can keep being as effective as they are and add in the ingredient of a healthy franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott, then this well-oiled machine should have a very successful second half en route to another playoff berth. Enjoy it now Cowboys fans, because this quite frankly could be the final stretch of having the dynamic duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard together with a star on their helmets.

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