Dallas Cowboys: Tony Pollard is still the ‘X’ factor on offense

(Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)
(Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images) /

Having a high-flying offense with several playmakers, is what separates average teams from great teams. The Dallas Cowboys have experienced this formality for several seasons with different quarterbacks running the show. From gun-slinging Tony Romo to the overachieving Dak Prescott, both quarterbacks have produced some of the highest scoring offenses in franchise history.

Those two drove the offenses but both also benefited from the playmaking abilities of Terrell Owens (Hall of Famer), the late Terry Glenn, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Michael Gallup.

Just like the Dallas Cowboys, other NFL teams rely on their elite offensive weapons to carry the load, make big plays, and win championships. The defending Kansas City Chiefs is a great example, and the New England Patriots with Tom Brady set the standard with how they implemented their offensive playmakers.

But what separated those teams from others was that they always had one exceptional player that was the wild card or “x” factor.

The Dallas Cowboys Tony Pollard is their “X” factor on offense, so they need to use his skillset to the fullest extent in 2023.

Despite Tony Pollard’s leg injury, the Dallas Cowboys were not dissuaded and still franchise tagged Pollard because they witnessed him achieve career gains in every offensive category. Pollard’s breakout year earned him his first Pro Bowl bid and a nice pay day that will eventually turn into a life-changing contract extension.

Pollard is the offense’s “X” factor

Pollard’s phenomenon year didn’t surprise anyone (except Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones) because the former fourth rounder has always showcased big play ability whenever the ball was in his hands.

Because Pollard ran 1,007 yards, scored 12 touchdowns (nine rushing, three receiving), averaged 5.2 yards a carry, and caught 39 passes for 371 receiving yards, Dallas moved on from the reliable but declining Ezekiel Elliott this offseason.

While Zeke was the featured back and short yardage king, TP is the one who made the splash plays for big gains, caught clutch passes and simply scored touchdowns with ease whether running the ball or catching it.

TP’s 57-yard touchdown run against the Los Angeles Rams became the signature score to lift Dallas to a 22-10 victory over the Rams. With Cooper Rush under center and having a lackluster passing game, TP’s ability to take any play to pay dirt is the primary reason why Dallas won the game, which gave them a 4-1 record.

It does not happen with Zeke, not with CeeDee Lamb, or any other offensive player in the game against the Rams. Yes, CeeDee has that ability to score but with Rush as the quarterback, the odds of that happening are slim to none.

It is for this reason alone why TP is the real “X” factor in Dallas’ offense. Used the right way, TP’s  talent will keep defensive coordinators up late at night figuring out how to stop a dual threat that will kill defenses with his running ability in the same manner with his receiving skills.

Most linebackers cannot cover the speedy/elusive TP and the same goes for safeties who will either be out of position to cover or take the wrong angle and miss a tackle-something TP made defenders do on the regular.

The best proof of TP embarrassing a defense was in the game against the Minnesota Vikings. TP caught touchdown passes of 30 and 68 yards against a Vikings defense that was more confused than Forrest Gump and a spelling bee.

TP’s first touchdown reception was swing pass in the flat that he took to the house, and TP’s second one was on a simple wheel route where he left Vikings outside linebacker Jordan Hicks in the dust by making him fall face first like a cartoon character. My Gawd!

TP finished the game with 189 total yards (80 rushing/109 receiving yards), two touchdowns, recorded six receptions on six targets, and had back-to-back runs of 18 and 20 yards. It was one of TP’s best games of his young career, but the Vikings game is a snapshot of what TP can do on a regular basis moving forward in Dallas’ new West Coast offense.

Two things stood out about TP in that game:

  1. TP was targeted six times and caught all six passes
  2. TP had consecutive runs of 15 plus yards.

Both are equally important but the consecutive runs proves my point of how TP is dangerous when touches the ball. If you go back and look at the above video, TP was close to breaking those runs for touchdowns.

Some may say it is no big deal that TP caught all six passes, but I will argue that not all running backs are equal, have good hands, and the ability to catch a simple swing pass. Case in point is that TP’s 68-yard touchdown reception was on 3rd and 14 in the third quarter with Dallas up 23-3.

Instead of looking for Lamb or any other receiver, Dak Prescott went with the playmaking TP who took it to pay dirt. That is a quarterback believing in his running back! And remember TP was targeted six times that game.

In comparison to Gallup and Lamb, both were targeted a combined nine times for a total of  86 yards and zero touchdowns. This is not a knock on either one of them but more about the effectiveness of TP as a receiving threat. Oh man…I’m starting to preach baby!

When it comes to a player being an “X” factor, the best example is how the San Francisco 49ers use the versatility of wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers have the luxury of having two dynamic threats that either beat you catching the ball or simply running with the ball. Either way, head coach Kyle Shanahan does a fantastic job of scheming them open to be mismatches for defenses, allowing the two to capitalize off of their athleticism.

And that is why players like them and TP are the true “X” factors on any offense because their unique athleticism allows them to beat defenses three ways: as a runner, a receiving threat, and with the ability to break tackles or get YAC (yards after contact). That is a gift very few skill position players possess.

Hence, TP is not as small as fans think.  TP stands 6’0 and weighs 209. That is not the biggest size, but to have the ability to break tackles speaks volumes about his overall strength. 

Players like Kareem Hunt (Cleveland Browns), the recently retired James White (New England Patriots), and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints) are a few examples of running backs that fits this label as the “X” factor. Further, Miami Dolphins super talented wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, is another skill position player that fits this mold. Man…the cheetah is one special player.

Nobody knew the importance of having an “X” factor player on offense more than former legendary Dallas Cowboys head coach, Tom Landry. Landry had the foresight to draft Olympic Gold medalist Bob Hayes as a wide receiver (Hall of Famer), and then drafted versatile running backs like Calvin Hill, Preston Pearson, Tony Dorsett, and Ron Springs.

All of the above players won Super Bowls, earned Pro Bowl bids, and a few of them are Hall of Famers (Dorsett and Hayes). But it was Dorsett who could do it all as a running back and a receiving threat out of the backfield. Dorsett’s ability to take swing pass 75 yards to pay dirt was historic and instrumental in Landry winning at least one of his two Super Bowls.

Sidenote: Fellow Sportdfw writer John Herndon did not agree with Dallas’ front office giving TP the franchise tag because he suffered a broken fibula in the playoff loss to the 49ers. In other words, John feels like the Dallas Cowboys’ front office could have found TP’s replacement in the later rounds of the draft in the same manner they drafted TP. That one player is running back Chase Brown out of Illinois, a versatile player with a good upside.

However, John does believe that TP is an elite talent when healthy and should have been the Dallas Cowboys’ RB1 after his outstanding performance against the Vikings.

In conclusion,

I truly believe the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff always knew TP was a special player because he is one of the most explosive running backs in the league with runs over 50 yards and fifth in the league with 722 yards gained after contact. For whatever reason the coaching staff remained loyal to Zeke is beyond a head scratcher.

TP will excel in the Dallas’ version of the West Coast Offense because he can play in the slot as well as being the lead back while splitting the carries with other backs who can do their own heavy lifting. If used correctly, TP can be the first running back in franchise history and fourth in NFL history to amass1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.

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TP would join the short list of great running backs to achieve the rare feat: Three-time Super Bowl champion Roger Craig of the 49ers (1985:1,050 yards rushing, 1,016 receiving yards), Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (Rams 1999:1,381 rushing yards, 1,048 receiving yards), and McCaffery (Panthers 2019: 1,387 rushing yards, 1,005 receiving yards).

TP is an ultra-talented back with the capabilities of taking this offense deep into the playoffs. But it is all about making TP the real “X” factor in order to make this a reality!