The Dallas Cowboys are not exactly getting off to a strong start this season.
Outside of their Week 1 loss, the organization is experiencing a rash influx of injuries and losses on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Michael Gallup is on the injured reserves. Offensive tackle La’el Collins is suspended for the next five games. Most recently, star pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence is expected to miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks following a severe foot injury.
It’s still early into the 2021 season, but things are quickly spiraling out of control in Dallas. If the Cowboys want any chance of staying afloat over the next month-plus, their highest-paid players will have to start performing better.
The Dallas Cowboys need Ezekiel Elliott to be special again
Right at the top of the list of Cowboys players who need to step up is quarterback Dak Prescott. However, this isn’t anything new. This year’s Cowboys team and their success always hinged on the ability of Prescott coming off a shoulder and ankle injury. We all saw how lethargic their offense looked without him last year — Prescott playing well is a must.
However, the QB is by no means the only position that matters for Dallas moving forward. In fact, Prescott looked good during the team’s Week 1 loss, leaving most confident about his ability moving forward.
It’s a different, highly paid Cowboy who deserves a closer look — one who signed a massive six-year, $90 million contract before the 2019 season.
Ezekiel Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick in 2016, hasn’t looked like a superstar running back in over a full year now. However, with so many injuries and absences piling up across the Dallas roster, the time for him to turn the corner and start living up to his salary has arrived.
Zeke’s regression started in 2019
Once upon a time, Elliott was considered one of the best running backs in football — if not the best. He burst onto the scene with 1,631 rushing yards during his rookie season and 1,434 in 2018. Elliott led the NFL in yards per game three straight seasons upon debuting and even surpassed the 2,000 scrimmage yards mark in 2018.
He played like an absolute superstar, hence the Cowboys’ decision to fork over $90 million to keep him in town.
However, it was a short-lived honeymoon phase for the two sides. Elliott’s yards per game average dipped from the high 90s in 2016-2018 to 84.8 in 2019, followed by a disastrous 2020 campaign. He finished last season with a measly 979 yards while only averaging four yards per carry. Elliott also fumbled six times.
It’s a concerning development for Elliott and the Cowboys, especially when you consider the typical shelf life for a ground-and-pound RB in today’s NFL. It’s uncommon for running backs to last for more than a few years at a time, and Elliott has an absurd amount of tread on his tires. 1,424 carries in just 72 games since debuting, to be exact.
Ezekiel Elliott needs to put these struggles behind him
During the Cowboys’ Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, Elliott played like a similar version of his 2019 self. He recorded 39 scrimmage yards on 13 total touches — a disastrous performance, to say the least. Many have argued the Cowboys need to do a better job of feeding Elliott the ball moving forward. However, his overall lack of speed and explosiveness against the Buccanneers gave them little reason to do so.
While the loss of La’el Collins will only make life more challenging on Elliott, the grossly overpaid RB has to find a way to deliver strong performances for the Cowboys again. He’s a crucial piece to their offense. Without him, Prescott will face an unreasonable burden and stress to carry the offense week after week.
It’s unclear how Elliott will manage such a drastic transformation, but it unquestionably needs to happen. If not, the Cowboys will be in some serious trouble.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.