After missing training camp and the preseason due to a lengthy holdout, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott appears to be slowing down.
The Detroit Lions have one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses. They allow an average of 124.2 rushing yards per game to opposing teams. Yet, against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend, Detroit was able to hold starting running back Ezekiel Elliott to just 45 yards on 16 carries.
Against a banged-up Lions’ defensive front, Elliott averaged just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. And Zeke’s longest rush went for just eight yards. This has started a bad streak for the Cowboys fourth-year running back, as Elliott posted just 2.4 yards per carry against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10, carrying the ball 20 times for 47 rushing yards. It’s the first time in his career Zeke has had fewer than 50 rush yards in two straight games.
Anyone watching the Cowboys’ games can see that the bulky Elliott seems to have lost his burst. He appears to be looking for contact rather than trying to find openings to explode out of. And many seem to think that this is a result of stacked defenses placing extra defenders in the box in an effort to stop the run.
But according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, Elliott has faced less 8+ men in the box situations than any other time in his entire four-year career. In 2019, Zeke has run against eight or more defenders in the box just 18.04 percent of the time. During his rookie season, when Elliott led the league in rushing yardage (1,631 yards), that percentage was up to 28.88.
In 2017, when Elliott was forced to serve a six-game suspension, the number of eight or more defenders in the box jumped to a high of 35.12 percent. Despite playing in just 10 games that year, Zeke averaged an NFL best 98.3 rushing yards per contest. And last season, with Elliott once again leading the league in rushing (1,434 yards), that 8+ man box number was 24.67.
Through 10 games so far this season, Elliott has totaled 833 rushing yards. His per-carry average of 4.3 yards is the second-lowest of his young career. Yet, Elliott has the fifth most carries in the league with 194 rushing attempts, but he’s only ranked eighth in total yards.
Though Elliott’s first five games of 2019 he averaged 4.52 yards per carry. In his last five, that average had dropped to 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. Elliott’s longest run this season went for 27-yards, and that was all the way back in Week Two. And Zeke hasn’t posted another 20+ yard run since.
There is little doubt the Cowboys have become a much more powerful passing offense averaging an NFL best 312.7 yards through the air per game. But that success hasn’t netted the team victories against playoff-caliber opponents yet this season. So if Dallas going to win in the postseason, they’ll need Elliott to help carry them to victory. Yet, spending most of his offseason training alone in Cabo San Lucas has done little to improve or even maintain Elliott’s burst.
Perhaps the Dallas Cowboys plan on finding those explosive runs through fourth-round rookie running back Tony Pollard. After all, Pollard is averaging 4.7 yards per carry in very limited snaps and he scored his very first receiving touchdown against Detroit over the weekend. It’s just a shame the Cowboys may elect to sit the league’s highest-paid running back during a game to insert a player with more playmaking ability in the backfield.