Did you know that you could rush for 1,000 yards behind the star-studded offensive line for the Dallas Cowboys? It’s the only reason that Ezekiel Elliott was so good last year and ran for a league leading 1,631 yards. It’s not that he’s a special runner and one of the best backs in the game.
That’s the logic for those who hate the Cowboys and Elliott. It’s all about the offensive line and no credit can be given to Zeke’s individual talent.
People actually hold onto this belief despite the fact that Elliott ran for 938 yards after contact last year, a league high.
But if you needed further information to demonstrate that talent is needed, here are the numbers from the last three years to prove that skill has just a little to do with success.
In 2014, when the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin and unleashed their offensive line on the NFL, DeMarco Murray led the running back group. Together, they carried the ball 472 times for 2,287 yards and 18 touchdowns. That was good for 4.84 yards an attempt and Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards.
The next season, in 2015, with virtually the same offensive line, the team thought they would be just fine without a stud running back. Murray left in free agency and Joseph Randle was supposed to be the lead dog. He had his issues and veteran Darren McFadden stepped up and ran for 1,089 yards to lead the Cowboys. The running back group, totaling five players, ran for 1,661 yards on 367 attempts and only eight touchdowns.
Playing without an elite quarterback helped the decline in attempts and yards, but it was still below expectations and collectively Dallas backs ran for 4.5 yards per carry. They were good running the ball in 2015, but an upgrade was needed at the position and it was easy to see.
Last year, the Cowboys had the same offensive linemen that suited up the season before but the results were much different. In fact, the team had some missed games along the line, with La’el Collins out for most of the season (Ronald Leary was better anyway) and Tyron Smith absent for a few games as well. Led by Elliott, the Cowboys ran for 1,992 yards (excluding Dak’s statistics) and 18 touchdowns on 424 totes.
That was good for a shade under 4.7 yards a carry, but Zeke led the group with 5.1 yards per run. If we throw in the 48 extra attempts to equal the 2014 amount of carries, the Cowboys would have run for 2,237 yards. That would have been close to the same amount as the 2014 total under Murray.
Now Dak Prescott’s emergence helped, just as Romo’s play did a few seasons ago, so the quarterback played a role in their success. However, the common theme between both big rushing seasons was the talent of the running back. The offensive line was essentially the same all three years and the 2015 runners were just not on the same level as Murray and Elliott.
Randle, McFadden, Christine Michael and Robert Turbin are serviceable guys, but none are as good as Murray or Zeke. Murray is a very good running back who has three 1,000 yard seasons under his belt and Ezekiel Elliott is an elite running back who helped make the Cowboys go last season, it’s who the offense was built around since the day they drafted him. Last year’s results were exactly what the team expected/hoped when they selected Elliott.
So while people might have a point when they say anyone can run for 1,000 yards behind the Cowboys’ offensive line, it misses the point. Rushing for 1,000 yards isn’t that hard anymore, effecting the game the way Elliott does is much more impressive; Zeke’s impact on the Dallas Cowboys is just as much about about Zeke as it is the offensive line.
There is no way to minimize Ezekiel Elliott.
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