Dallas Cowboys Reminder: Dak Prescott doesn’t need Ezekiel Elliott to win

Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Amidst the news of Ezekiel Elliott’s positive test we must remind Dallas Cowboys fans, Dak Prescott can win without Zeke

Panic befell Cowboys Nation yesterday when news broke Ezekiel Elliott had tested positive for Coronavirus. To some fans, this was the worst news imaginable. That’s because many Dallas Cowboys fans feel Zeke is the offense’s most important player and the fate of the team rests upon his health.

To those who follow the numbers, that sentiment seems rather ridiculous. As far as game impact, running backs are rarely as effective as their ball throwing counterparts. In fact, only three teams last season had running backs who produced higher expected points (EP) than their respective quarterbacks (hint: Dallas was not one of them).

Looking at Ezekiel Elliott’s totals from last season, it’s understandable many see him as the key cog in the Dallas Cowboys machine. But we mustn’t confuse impressive totals with actual positive impact. As Dan illustrates below, rushing leaders (as well as passing leaders) are a product of workload, not ability. Therefore we need to stop listening to arguments revolving around a player’s game totals or season totals because totals lack context and show nothing regarding the quality of yards gains.

The Dallas Cowboys win without Zeke

For quite some time, there’s been a false narrative floating around that Dak Prescott somehow needs Ezekiel Elliott in order to be successful. The reality is that couldn’t be any further from the truth. The Dallas Cowboys offense has actually improved without Zeke, averaging 31 points per game and going 4-0 over the last four. Historically the Cowboys struggle, not when their lead ball carrier is out, but when their Pro Bowl left tackle is out.

So why would the Dallas Cowboys go a perfect 4-0 without Zeke and even find a way to improve their points per game in process?

Because of play-calling.

Without Zeke playing, the Cowboys traditionally pass the ball more often. And since passing produces considerably more expected points per attempt than rushing, it’s a pretty obvious outcome.

drives that began with a Zeke carry were less likely to eventually be converted than drives that began with a pass attempt

Last year the Cowboys averaged 0.21 expected points (EP) per pass attempt and only 0.05 expected points per rushing attempt. That’s 4x better! That wasn’t an isolated situation last year either. In 2018 the Cowboys passing attack averaged 8x the EPA than the rushing game did per attempt.

When Zeke is on the field, play-callers are understandably tempted to give him his fair share of first down carries. But did you know that drives that began with a Zeke carry were less likely to eventually be converted than drives that began with a pass attempt?

Given the emergence of Tony Pollard and the slight decline of Zeke, we can make the case Zeke is even more replaceable than ever before. While Pollard led the NFL in elusive rating, Zeke fell down below league average. That, coupled with the passing game’s progression, explains why opponents stopped stacking the box to stop the run last season. 26 NFL running backs faced a higher 8-man box percentage than Zeke.  For more on that check out the article below:

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The Dallas Cowboys are still better with Zeke

The Dallas Cowboys are undeniably a better team with Ezekiel Elliott. That cannot be denied. He’s one of the most well-rounded backs in the NFL and allows the Cowboys offense to do so many things with him on the field. He’s also an elite short-yardage back which is the primary function of an NFL running back anyway.

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But his importance for this offense is also widely overblown. All phases of the passing game are more important than the running game and last season the effectiveness of the running game had no impact on the effectiveness of the passing game (in other words, establishing the run meant nothing).

At the end of the day Ezekiel Elliott is said to be asymptomatic and chances are this positive test will do little to impact his availability this season. But his health scare is a good opportunity to raise awareness regrading his importance within this offense and hierarchy of the RB in any modern day offense.

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Ezekiel Elliott is a good player but Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys passing attack don’t need him to work. They have proven to be just fine without him in the past and all evidence points to them getting by just fine without him should he be unavailable again in the future.

  • Published on 06/16/2020 at 12:24 PM
  • Last updated at 06/16/2020 at 12:24 PM