Dallas Cowboys: More passes to Zeke and Pollard – Is that a good thing?

Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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dallas cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /

Diving into the Dallas Cowboys RB Offense

How valuable are pass-catching RBs?

Mike McCarthy has not-so-subtly indicated the Dallas Cowboys plan to use Zeke and Pollard more in the passing game this season. Instead of benchmarking “carries” he’s preferring to use the more inclusive term, “touches”.

Based on some training camp looks and comments made to the media, McCarthy is finding some new and creative ways to get the ball into his running backs’ hands. Citing Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, McCarthy has spoken of how pre-snap motion and 21 personnel can create mismatches downfield for his running backs and tight ends.

Combine all of this with McCarthy’s west coast tendencies and you have reason to believe the Cowboys will be handing the ball to their RBs a little less and throwing to them a little more.

Before we get too excited about the idea of using Zeke and Pollard more in the passing game we’d be wise to assess the value of a typical RB reception. Because when compared to receptions made by receivers and tight ends, running back receptions aren’t the best option:

Last season was hardly an anomaly either. The 2018 season Zeke barely offered a positive EPA on the season. Meaning, despite catching 77 balls, he rarely increased the Cowboys’ expected points and often hurt the Cowboys chances of scoring rather than helped.


Now these are not your Garrett-led Cowboys anymore. We shouldn’t expect Ezekiel Elliott to be the same pass-catcher under a McCarthy-Moore offense here in 2020. The buzz around Cowboys Nation isn’t about just increasing workload or target share. It’s about changing the way the running backs receive the ball.

As we pointed out in “Why Throwing to Zeke Should be a Last Resort” Zeke received almost all of his opportunities at or behind the line of scrimmage. It’s no wonder he’s the least effective pass-catcher – he had the most ground to cover.

But what about if we use them differently. What if we use the RB like we would a WR? What if he lined up in the slot…