Dallas Cowboys: Proof again, Running Backs Don’t Matter

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys sadly proved once again, they invested their limited resources in all the wrong places.

Even though Ezekiel Elliott had his best game of the season, he wasn’t the driving force behind Dallas’ third victory of the season. Running backs rarely are the driving force in wins. And usually when a running back is, it’s because of the elements around him rather than his unique ability.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, offensive line play, motion, and spacing all dictate rushing success – Not individual awesomeness. That’s why running backs don’t matter. They’re largely replaceable. That was proven once again this week against the Vikings…

We’re in the back-half of the 2020 season and some people still don’t understand what “running backs don’t matter” really means. Ezekiel Elliott truthers will see the victory and season high rushing total as some kind of proof that running backs, particularly Zeke, matters. The reality is Dallas’ win over Minnesota proved the exact opposite.

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The phrase running backs don’t matter isn’t referring to position itself or even the level usefulness of moving the ball on the ground (although we have made the case…). It speaks to the low value of a specific individual. Since rushing success is almost exclusively a byproduct of run blocking, motion, and spacing, it rarely matters who specifically is toting the rock. Back-ups often produce the same as the starter. Historical numbers prove it.

On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys fans saw Zeke enjoy his most successful game this year. Rushing for 103 yards on 21 carries and a 4.9 average. Zeke’s success rate was a respectable 48% (most of his runs still put the offense in a worse position than before the play, though).

But the other guys carrying the ball were every bit as good. Some may say better. Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb combined for 72 yards on seven carries for a 10.3 average. For those who’ve been studying the analytics, this isn’t odd or even surprising. Running backs don’t matter.

Expected points weigh the impact of a specific play. Using historical data it applies value to plays. Up until this week, plays involving Zeke often resulted in a negative EPA (He hurt the Cowboys scoring prospects), but on Sunday he posted a positive 2.5 EPA on the day and a 0.12 per play average. The thing is, Tony Pollard posted 2.9 EPA himself on16 less carries. CeeDee Lamb beat them both on some highly critical runs, earning a 3.3 total and 1.09 per rushing attempt.

No matter how much we want Ezekiel Elliott to live up to his ridiculous contract, he never will. The slippage in his production combined with the salary cap commitment, make him an albatross to the team going forward. Teams just don’t fear Zeke anymore either.

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It was good to see Zeke play well again but let’s not lose sight of reality. .Feeding Zeke is not a sound strategy to win games and anything he can, a back-up can do almost nearly as well (and possibly better).

  • Published on 11/24/2020 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 11/24/2020 at 11:40 AM