Why the Cowboys Must Give Ezekiel Elliott the Ball LESS

Oct 9, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs with the ball in the first quarters against Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs with the ball in the first quarters against Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

With all due respect to Ezekiel Elliott, but the Dallas Cowboys must find a way to decrease his workload and involve Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar more.

Ezekiel Elliott is setting the NFL on fire this season. Through seven games, Zeke has five touchdowns, 799 rushing yards, and a clean 5.0 yards per carry average. The #4 overall draft pick from Ohio State is on pace to break the rookie rushing record and possibly a whole lot more.

Then why would we want to mess with a good thing?

Because it’s all about the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys have shown enough these first few weeks to be considered contenders according to anyone’s standards. The latest ESPN Power Rankings place the Cowboys #2 overall, nestled in snugly between the #1 New England Patriots and #3 Denver Broncos. That’s pretty good company to keep.

Barring a complete collapse, the Cowboys are going to the playoffs. Because of this, all expectations must be raised and the strategy must follow accordingly. One adjustment should involve not running the star running back into the ground.

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The last time Dallas leaned on their workhorse like this, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing and led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He also faded significantly down the stretch and was no longer the unstoppable weapon when the Cowboys needed him to be the most.

Flashback: The first eight games of the 2014 season DeMarco Murray tallied 1,054 yards under a significant workload. With an increased workload in the season’s second half, the production slipped considerably.

Most notably, Murray only topped 100 yards in two of eight remaining regular season games.

The Cowboys stand in a very similar situation today, heading into their eighth game of the season. Do they ride their workhorse into the ground and pray he doesn’t hit that “rookie wall” every single player seems to talk about? Or do they gamble against all odds and just hope their rookie is the exception to the rule?

I think we all know what the smarter long-sighted play is here.

What makes this such an easy decision is the stable of running backs sitting behind Elliott: Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar.

Alfred Morris

The primary back-up to Ezekiel Elliott is former Washington Redskin, Alfred Morris. As we saw in the preseason Alfred Morris is tailor-made for the Cowboys zone/trap blocking scheme. He’s not the home run threat that Zeke is but he’s a smart and gritty runner that can consistently make positive plays. It’s easy to forget, but Alf even has some sizzle to his game too, making him more than the “3-yards and a cloud of dust” runner some claim him to be.

The Cowboys typically bring Morris in for a series or two but with only 36 carries in 7 games, Morris needs to touch the ball more than five times per game to offer any tangible relief to Zeke Elliott.

Lance Dunbar

Lance Dunbar is another forgotten weapon on this Dallas Cowboys offense. Just last season Dunbar carried the Cowboys offense for the first quarter of the season. In just four games, Dunbar collected 21 receptions on 23 targets for 215 yards. Simply put, he did to other teams what Darren Sproles just did to the Cowboys – frustrated the hell out of them.

Dunbar isn’t much of a threat as a runner but on passing downs he can be a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. Dunbar can run routes from the backfield or lined up as a receiver. For more on Dunbar and why he must be used more, see also…

Related Story: Get Lance Dunbar the Dang Ball!

Many will argue how good Zeke Elliott really is running behind this dominant Dallas offensive line.

While some think he’s more than justified his selection as the 4th overall pick in the draft, others feel he’s “riding the coattails of the best run-blocking line in the game”. Pro Football Focus is in the second group. They are quick to point out that “only five RBs have gained a lower percentage of rushing yards after contact.”

Regardless of which group you belong to, everyone can see the value of having a happy and healthy Zeke down the stretch. To do that, Dallas has to share the ball with their other more-than-capable runners.

Next: The Cowboys have many questions still left to answer

Ezekiel Elliott should be THE key part of the Dallas Cowboys offense when the games matter the most: December and January. To do that then, the Cowboys have a decision to make now. Do they ride Zeke into the ground or share the load?