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Cowboys biggest Super Bowl lesson is at running back, not at quarterback

The Cowboys running back room could look drastically different in 2023.

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has settled on Super Bowl LVII, and with the conclusion of the 2022 season the trophy count around the NFC East remains unchanged. The Kansas City Chiefs prevented the Philadelphia Eagles from winning their second Super Bowl in six seasons, benefiting from having the ball in Pat Mahomes hands late and winning a back-and-forth shootout 38-35 in Arizona.

With Mahomes and the Chiefs putting together five scoring drives in just over 24 minutes of possession, it’s easy for the lasting memory of this Super Bowl being an all-time great quarterback already building a legacy that few current competitors can match. For the second time in four seasons, the Chiefs are the gold standard of the NFL, with a QB whose talents simply can’t be replicated.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones already tried to spin the Eagles Super Bowl appearance as the type of “all-in” sellout job that he’s reluctant to go for, and now with the Chiefs coming out on top can further turn up the pressure on Dak Prescott to carry the team in ways other franchise QBs aren’t asked to. Dallas finds themselves in the familiar position of starting their offseason before Championship Weekend even arrived, already facing similar concerns from a year ago with wide receiver and offensive line being positions of need.

The Eagles and Chiefs may also serve as examples of how to surround a QB with receiving talent, but the lasting lesson the Cowboys should take away as they look to reach this game in 2023 is in the backfield for both teams. Unlike last year, the Cowboys need at receiver is now compounded by uncertainty at running back. Ezekiel Elliott’s contract offers Dallas a potential out this offseason, while Tony Pollard is set to hit free agency after a career year.

The Cowboys did the right thing in using Pollard as more of a featured back this season, seeing that Elliott isn’t the same workhorse back they drafted fourth overall in 2016. Now, a change atop the offense with Mike McCarthy taking over as play-caller could reduce Elliott’s role even more. With Pollard’s price tag being driven up this season, the Cowboys could envision him as their lead back and still be outbid by another team willing to spend for a player that averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per catch this season.

The time has come for a reset in the Cowboys backfield, and looking at the Super Bowl participants shouldn’t be discouraging. The Chiefs started journeyman Jerick McKinnon and rookie Isiah Pacheco, while the Eagles best gains on the ground came from Jalen Hurts - though Kenneth Gainwell, Miles Sanders, and Boston Scott all contributed.

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The highest draft pick from this entire group is Sanders, a second-round pick of the Eagles in 2019. Sanders broke 250 carries for the first time this season, but has been a consistent starter for the Eagles with a breakout 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. His running style complements the Philadelphia offense well, keeping defenses honest as a speed threat with Hurts in the backfield while physical enough to slam between the tackles.

Veteran defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo keyed on Sanders in the Super Bowl, holding him to 16 yards on the same seven attempts that Gainwell rushed for 21 yards with. The Eagles’ longest non-Hurts rush of the game was for nine yards, yet they still converted half of their first downs on the ground and put up 35 points. It was the type of efficiency that Nick Sirianni was mocked for saying he’d bring to Philly, but now as the head coach overseeing one of the best rosters in the NFL is set up for long-term success.

On the winning side of Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs came into this season with the same narrative that surrounded Prescott when it comes to his receivers. In his first season without Tyreek Hill, Mahomes was asked to elevate the talent around him, and did just that in a historic MVP season. With McKinnon setting a career-high in receptions and Pacheco also being a threat out of the backfield, the Chiefs more consistently made up for their loss at receiver with checkdown options they could count on in a way the Cowboys couldn’t with Elliott, Pollard, or any of their tight ends.

Rookie seventh-round pick Isaiah Pacheco led Kansas City with 15 carries for 76 yards in the Super Bowl, scoring the first touchdown of the second half to cut into Philadelphia’s commanding ten-point lead. It was the veteran McKinnon that made the play of the night from a running back though, sliding short of the goal line with a first down that let the Chiefs wind clock until the game-winning field goal.

In a Super Bowl that featured two franchise quarterbacks leading teams that expertly surrounded them with talent, the Cowboys should have a sense for the work cut out for them with Prescott. Some of their moves early in the offseason have been encouraging,like shaking up the offensive staff with McCarthy as play-caller and hinting that Elliott remaining on the team “would have to be at the right price”. On Thursday, it wa reported the Cowboys would be willing to release Elliott if this price isn’t met and the veteran’s contract can’t be restructured.

Whether it’s retaining Tony Pollard, finding a later-round pick, or even more of KaVontae Turpin out of the backfield, the Cowboys getting a lot more efficient here would open up the cap space and resources needed to help CeeDee Lamb on the outside, keep Prescott upright with better line depth, and of course add talent for Dan Quinn to work with on defense.

Cowboys Nation is hardly the only fanbase feeling like they’re far from hoisting the Lombardi, especially after watching an epic performance from Mahomes spoil a similarly great game by Hurts. Few teams have the same expectations and pressure than McCarthy’s though, and his influence on the offense needs to be felt the most at running back if he hopes to remain as head coach in Dallas for the foreseeable future.

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