Ezekiel Elliott has been logging a heavy workload as of late and there’s a growing concern he may soon start breaking down right when the Dallas Cowboys need him the most.
No NFL player has more touches than RB Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys. 13 games into the season, Zeke leads the league in rushing attempts with 268 (a full 24 attempts more than the second place running back, Todd Gurley). Zeke is also 25th in the league with 65 receptions. This brings his total touches to 333 – a league high.
Averaging over 25 touches per game, Zeke is on pace for a 409 touch season. This would be the most touches Zeke has ever logged, and could potentially lead to a broken down workhorse come what playoff time.
This is an especially heavy workload considering how often first contact is made behind the line of scrimmage and how rarely Zeke goes down from only one tackler. It also makes it pretty safe to say Zeke has considerably more collisions per game than touches.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the workload actually go up. The last four games have been Zeke’s heaviest four-game workload of the season. While we may see him take more breaks to rest on the sideline, it’s directly related to the added work he’s doing on the field.
After last week’s win against Philadelphia, the Dallas Cowboys have all but been assured of a playoff spot this season (99% according to FiveThirtyEight). With the odds against them moving up to the third seed (Chicago is a game up and holds the tiebreaker advantage), chances are Dallas is going to finish exactly where they’re at right now: the Fourth seed.
So the question is: “Are the Dallas Cowboys overusing Ezekiel Elliott?” And if so, “should they rest him down the stretch?”
As I discussed on Thursday, there are major benefits to moving up to the third seed, and while it’s statistically unlikely, it’s certainly worth pursuing for multiple reasons (catch up here to see the reasons).
Resting Zeke down the stretch may prove to be a recipe for disaster considering the offense is built around the guy. To make matters worse, Rod Smith, his primary backup, has been uninspiring in his stead, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.
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The Dallas Cowboys simply cannot afford to hold Zeke out because the falloff in talent behind him is too severe. But they can lighten his workload. By keeping Zeke on the field, the Dallas Cowboys will force opponents to respect the run. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Zeke faces eight or more defenders in the box over 26 percent of the time. These situations are ideal for Dak Prescott and the passing game to exploit one-on-one matchups downfield.
If Zeke spends just as much time on the field but touches the ball less, the Dallas Cowboys could preserve their workhorse while still enjoying the benefits that come with an eight-man box. To put it another way, the Dallas Cowboys need Dak to pass more in order to successfully preserve Ezekiel Elliott.
There’s still too much to play for to sideline Zeke, but we need to be mindful of his workload because Dallas is going to need their best weapon when the postseason begins.
As Zeke goes, so go the Dallas Cowboys. This run-happy team’s recent success is directly related to their favorite workhorse’s output. But that’s all the more reason to take steps to ensure he’s not broken down by the playoffs.
- Published on 12/15/2018 at 14:00 PM
- Last updated at 12/15/2018 at 12:46 PM