In Ezekiel Elliott the Dallas Cowboys have one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL, yet they’ve been hesitant to lean on their bell cow as much as they have in past. Is Dallas wasting Zeke?
In the opinion of many, the Dallas Cowboys haven’t been leaning on Ezekiel Elliott as much as they have in the past. After signing Ezekiel Elliott to a massive contract extension this summer, the Dallas Cowboys have seemingly reduced his workload and minimized his overall impact on offense.
Through five weeks, Zeke only has 85 carries, good for just a 17 per game average. A surprisingly modest number to be sure. But what if I told you those numbers aren’t far off where he was last year?
Zeke, a notoriously slow starter, only had 93 carries five weeks into the 2018 season. That’s only 1.6 more carries/game than this year. His 480 rushing yards in ’18 were certainly more impressive, as was his 5.16 y/c average. His 386 yards and 4.52 y/c in 2019 pale in comparison. But as far as opportunities – Zeke’s been getting nearly the same.
It’s the Dallas Cowboys’ passing game that’s starkly different. And it’s the way the passing game is deployed that’s causing us to believe Zeke’s not the important cog he once was. At this point last season Zeke was targeted 29 times through the air. Here in 2019 Dak Prescott has only looked his way 17 times.
That’s a pretty significant drop off in targets.
It’s also a very VERY good thing for an efficient offense. It’s unhealthy for a running back to be the leading pass-catcher on a team. Even the best running backs in the league are inherently less profitable than tight ends and receivers in the passing game. This was especially true for Zeke and the Dallas Cowboys last season.
In 2018 Ezekiel Elliott was one of the Dallas Cowboys least effective pass-catchers. He actually finished the season with a negative EPA meaning he offered the offense a net loss when all was said and done. We know through advanced analytics this is not out of the norm and certainly no indictment on Zeke himself. Throwing to a running back is just typically the least effective pass a QB can make and a check-down on 3rd and long is essentially conceding the possession.
So the fact the Dallas Cowboys are throwing less check-downs to Zeke this season is a great thing to see. Zeke is getting nearly the same workload on the ground he used to, Kellen Moore and the Cowboys offense are just reducing his workload in the passing game.
Now, the last two weeks Dak has thrown four interceptions. To some, this is evidence the downfield passing game is failing and conservative check-down plan of yesteryear should be reapplied. But it doesn’t take much digging to see Dak’s interceptions are explainable. And more importantly fixable.
Receiver error, missed no-calls, and freak plays explain the vast majority. Dak isn’t just slinging wild passes downfield, he’s executing the offense and seeing tremendous results. As luck progresses to the mean, we’re going to see some truly amazing performances.
Even with these higher-risk passes downfield, Dallas is seeing tremendous returns. Not only are the Cowboys the top yard-gaining offense in the NFL, but Dak is leading the NFL in Total QBR, he’s second in points added, and fourth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
It’s no wonder Dallas has the No. 1 overall offense and No. 4 passing offense in the NFL. They are giving Zeke nearly the same opportunities on the ground as before, they’re just exploring more fruitful opportunities through the air. By targeting receivers and tight ends more than Zeke, Dak’s getting the most from his offense.
The Dallas Cowboys currently boast two of the NFL’s top-3 deadly receiving weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Why would they want to throw a ball to the line of scrimmage when they have two outside WRs getting open and making plays deep downfield?
Are the Dallas Cowboys wasting Ezekiel Elliott? Heck no. They are just using him more efficiently.
Some think Zeke’s not getting the carries he used to. The reality is, he’s only 1.6 touches/game off last season’s pace and it’s his counterproductive contributions in the passing game that have been reduced. Less overall touches? Sure. But by focusing on what Zeke does best, the Dallas Cowboys offense has become considerably more potent in 2019.
- Published on 10/13/2019 at 11:01 AM
- Last updated at 10/13/2019 at 11:47 AM