Dallas Cowboys: Workhorse RB is dead, era of situational RB begins

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Since Tony Pollard’s breakout performance against the Bears, the Zeke vs Pollard debate has hit full steam in Dallas Cowboys land. Pollard’s advocates have relished in the fact Pollard dominated in his first shot at being RB1, while Ezekiel Elliott truthers are happy to point out the recent statements made by Skip Peete about Pollard tapping out after 14 carries in Week 8.

As someone who’s been unabashedly Team Pollard for a couple years now, I felt the highs and the lows of the week. On one hand, his performance was proof he’s the more valuable weapon deserving of the most valuable opportunities. On the other hand, hearing Pollard maxed out against the Bears did little to help the “make TP RB1” movement gain ground.

Because Ezekiel Elliott was a proven bell cow. A true workhorse. He was a guy you give 20-25 carries per game and he’s all the stronger for it, right?


Ezekiel Elliott, much like Tony Pollard, doesn’t have the ability to be a workhorse RB for the Dallas Cowboys.

The idea Tony Pollard becomes less productive after a certain threshold of usage, shouldn’t be surprising. It’s true with nearly every athlete on the face of the earth. The belief that a running back gets stronger as the game goes has been discredited years ago. Defenses will soften with time, but rushing yards over expected won’t suddenly balloon once a running back “gets in a groove.”

The reality is Tony Pollard can’t be relied on to carry the rock 20 times per game every week.  And you know what? Neither can Zeke.

over the past two seasons, Zeke has been averaging UNDER 15 carries per game. Are we still going to make a big deal about Tony Pollard tapping out at 14

Zeke hasn’t averaged 20 carries per game since 2018.  To put that in perspective, in 2018 the Dallas Cowboys featured Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley at WR, Byron Jones was patrolling the secondary, and Rico Gathers was on apparently the cusp of greatness. That was a long time ago, my friends.

In fact, over the past two seasons, Ezekiel Elliott has been averaging UNDER 15 carries per game. Are we still going to make a big deal about Tony Pollard tapping out at 14 carries?

Let’s also keep in mind Pollard ran for 131 yards on the ground. Perhaps running for all of those yards played a part in his exhaustion? It’s been over a year since the last time Zeke collected over 130 yards on the ground (2021 Wk4 Carolina) and that was the first time since 2019 he put up numbers that good.  Zeke went all of 2020 without exceeding 105 yards.

Does this mean we’re back to Make Tony Pollard the RB1?

Sure, but with explanation… Like Skip Peete said in the previously mentioned article, it’s a two running back kinda league. And throughout Skip’s time with the Dallas Cowboys, this team has happily rotated two running backs throughout games.

The point of contention is really who should get more carries and when.

Based on rushing yards over expected, Tony Pollard is the far more productive back. He does more with less and exceeds expectations consistently. He’s currently ranked second in the NFL in this category and the direct comp to Zeke is ultra-clear because the two players run behind the same offensive line.

That alone doesn’t necessarily warrant a 60/40 split in TP’s favor, though. Where the Cowboys seem to be failing is how they deploy the two players.

Zeke is, by far, the better short yardage back and takes on less negative yardage than Pollard. He’s better in pass protection (although he’s not nearly as good as some want to believe) and can even be used a lead blocker in 21 personnel.

Pollard is a homerun hitter and someone who, quite regularly, gets something from nothing. Teams fear Pollard more and put more players in the box when facing him. Pollard is best used between the 20s and on early downs while Zeke is best used in the redzone, short yardage, and third downs.

The point is, instead of rotating series’, the two backs should be cast into roles that better fit their talents. The results could work out to be the 60/40 Pollard split, or it might not. It all depends on the game and how things unfold.

Folks are making way too big of a deal of Pollard tapping out at 14 carries and 131 yards. Over the past two seasons Zeke’s been averaging roughly the same. The Dallas Cowboys don’t have a workhorse running back on their roster, and that’s a good thing.

Trending. 3 Free Agents the Cowboys can still sign. light

Next. The Cowboys are not satisfied with their roster. dark

The takeaway here is the Dallas Cowboys have to give Pollard most of those early down opportunities and Zeke most of the short-yardage opportunities.