With three weeks in the books and considering how the season started off, it is a really good feeling to be 2-1. The defense has been the headliner for this team, and for good reason, they are really good. They aren’t the only unit that is pretty good; over on the offensive side of the ball, and more particularly, the backfield group of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard is also doing work.
As it stands currently, Elliott and Pollard are one of the better backfield duos in all of the NFL. This season alone it feels like the Cowboys are finally embracing the running back by committee approach. This approach, if applied properly, can be very effective, especially in the latter weeks of the regular season.
Handling the running back by committee approach properly, increases the chances of it being successful
The main issue as it currently stands is how this committee approach has been deployed thus far in 2022. Ezekiel Elliott has 40 carries through three games and Tony Pollard has 28. Which averages out to Zeke having four more carries a game. In all reality, those numbers should be flip flopped and Pollard should essentially be the 1A, whereas Zeke is the 1B. In week three, Elliott only out-carried Pollard by two. That is a promising sign that the tide might be turning in favor of Pollard getting the slight majority of the carries.
Tony Pollard time!
The reason for Pollard taking over the lead back role is based on how much more explosive he is than Elliott. The stats don’t lie, and in fact, it’s not really all that close based on the yards per carry averages amongst the duo. Ezekiel Elliott through week three is averaging 4.4 per tote which is very respectable and effective. On the flip side, Tony Pollard is averaging 5.6 per carry which is currently eighth best in the NFL. Following the numbers, if you shift the decimal point over one digit to the right on the yards per carry total, and make it a percentage, is right in line with the kind of split we should see. It would be 56% for Pollard and 44% for Elliott. Anywhere from 55% to 60% of the carries for Pollard, and 40% to 45% of the carries for Elliott would be the proper way to apply this running back by committee approach.
Even if Pollard became the lead back, it would be by a slight majority. Both players bring enough to the table, and both players are effective enough, to justify the 60/40, 55/45 kind of split. Pollard, based on his game-breaking ability, needs to have the slight majority of the touches because it would simply give the Cowboys a higher probability of breaking off a long run to the house for a touchdown.
Ezekiel Elliott is still good enough and efficient enough to still have a decent sized role in the backfield
Elliott should still get a good chunk of the workload simply because he’s still a beast and is the more powerful running back of the two. Having Elliott grind out those tough yards at times would be very beneficial because he can soften up the defense and when they are softened up just enough, slide Pollard in for an increased shot to hit a big one. Zeke should also have that 1B kind of role because he still the better back when it comes to pass protection in comparison to Pollard.
The running back by committee approach to the backfield would also be effective in two particular ways: increasing the chances of keeping each player healthy throughout the season, and also keep some extra tread on the tires as we get deeper into the season. Hopefully the Cowboys see what many have seen for long enough now, and that is Pollard needs to be the lead back. Again, even if Pollard were to officially become the lead back, that doesn’t mean Elliott cannot be used effectively. Aside from the percentage points approach to the backfield, using Pollard between the 20’s would be ideal and focusing Elliott’s usage in the red zone would be the most effective approach each week. It’ll be interesting to see how this backfield situation evolves throughout the season, but one thing is for sure, it’s great to have two very capable running backs to deploy at any time.