If the Dallas Cowboys feed Zeke, will Ezekiel Elliott eat?

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys have been one of the least successful teams in the league rushing the ball – increasing carries can’t change that.

Since the Dallas Cowboys lost their starting quarterback last week, the calls to “feed Zeke” have run rampant around Cowboys Nation. Up until now, Ezekiel Elliott has been nothing but a supporting cast member to this pass-happy Cowboys offense. That may change with Andy Dalton under center.

The Dallas Cowboys offense, which is among the top of the league in pass-to-run play-calls, may opt to lean on the running game now that there’s a noticeable decline at QB1. And those who have been calling for more Zeke, may finally get their wish. For better or for worse.

Just because the Dallas Cowboys decide to feed Zeke, does not mean Zeke’s going to actually eat. This season, Ezekiel Elliott has faced some of the most optimal situations of his career. He’s running out of more 11-personnel, shotgun, and spread formations than he has in the past (statistically more fruitful than loading up with blockers) and he’s seeing less eight-man boxes than the average NFL running back as well, indicating defenses have been focusing on stopping the Cowboys pass rather than the run.

Despite all of this, Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack are near the bottom of the NFL in rushing success. According to RBSDM.com, in non-blowout situations (30-70% win probability) Dallas is ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing success rate ( 37.9%) and 26th in the NFL in Expected Points (-.168). The Dallas Cowboys have been essentially shooting themselves in the foot when they’ve fed Zeke thus far this season.

With 106.6 yards/game, the Dallas Cowboys are ranked 21st in the NFL in weekly rushing average.  This is a far cry from 2019 when the Cowboys were fifth in the NFL. Many will use this generally empty yardage total as proof they aren’t feeding Zeke as they should. But all yardage totals do is speak to the number of rushing attempts – not the quality of the runs. If you give anyone enough carries they’re going to post big totals. That’s why the league’s leading rusher is usually the same guy who leads the league in attempts.

Anyone can get 100-yards per game if they get enough carries. Pointless volume stats such as these say little about whether these runs helped or hurt the team’s scoring chances.

Calls to increase volume stats like attempts and subsequently yards/game, are misguided because on the Dallas Cowboys they’re just calls for more unsuccessful plays. Again, the Dallas Cowboys have a failure rate of 63% on runs – meaning majority of the time running the ball puts them in a worse situation than they were in before the play.

As discussed last week, it also forces Andy Dalton into more ugly obvious passing situations (the last thing you want to do to a replacement QB behind a suspect O-line). If the Dallas Cowboys decide to feed Zeke, they better hope he does more with his opportunities than he has so far.

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In all fairness, it’s not Zeke’s fault he’s struggling to produce positive results on his runs. He, and all running backs, are slaves to the O-line he plays behind. Productive running comes from productive offensive lines – not by force-feeding running backs.

Again, this isn’t to say Zeke can’t be feed and/or find success. It just means it hasn’t happened yet and unless the O-line starts playing better that probably won’t change. Anyone can get 100-yards per game if they get enough carries. It’s important we don’t fall victim to pointless volume stats such as these since they say little about whether these runs helped or hurt the team’s scoring chances.

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Feed Zeke? The Dallas Cowboys have been one of the most unsuccessful teams rushing the ball this season, simply offering more rushing opportunities isn’t going to change that.

  • Published on 10/19/2020 at 11:30 AM
  • Last updated at 10/19/2020 at 07:37 AM