Fantasy football owners everywhere were understandably upset with running back Ezekiel Elliott’s performance for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 (well, unless you were playing against him). But given Elliott’s history, we can all expect him to bounce back and have a big game in Week 2 or 3.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, though, is concerned for Elliott. In fact, he thinks it could be a “rough year” for the Ohio State product if he doesn’t get help from his quarterback, Dak Prescott, and the Cowboys’ amazing cast of wide receivers.
Ezekiel Elliott had a poor Week 1 showing for the Cowboys
No one can blame Ezekiel Elliott for the way he played in the Cowboys’ Week 1 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were facing one of the best defensive lines in football, and he only touched the ball 13 times (11 carries and two catches). Elliott ended up totaling 33 rushing and six receiving yards.
What’s concerning, however, is that the game followed the worst season of his career.
Elliott had career-lows in rushing yards (979), yards per game (65.3), and yards per attempt (4.0) in 2020. So, is he just out of his prime at this point?
That might not be the case.
According to Faulk, he needs help from Dak Prescott and his weapons.
Marshall Faulk said it could be a ‘rough year’ for Zeke
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk recently appeared on The Rich Eisen Show, and he seems to be concerned with what kind of year it could be for Elliott.
“Tampa Bay decided, ‘Ezekiel Elliott can beat us; we won’t let him. Dak, can you beat us?’” Faulk said on the Sept. 15 episode. “… Until we see that awesome receiving core and Dak do his thing consistently, nobody’s gonna let Zeke run the ball because they know that’s the Dallas Cowboys’ recipe to winning. And they’re not gonna let them cook with the right ingredients. Zeke’s gonna have to make a gourmet meal with whatever he has; they will not let this offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott win ball games for Dallas.”
Faulk continued: “It’s gonna be a rough year for Ezekiel Elliott if the passing game can’t win games for Dallas. … This league is too fast, too strong. They’re not going to just allow him to just carry a team on his back. It doesn’t go like that. And here’s the thing, it’s not like he’s playing with some inexperienced quarterback; they’re not that young at wide receiver.”
So, unless Prescott and the receivers can prove that the Cowboys’ passing attack can win them ball games, Faulk thinks Elliott will have a “rough year.”
Is he right?
Will Ezekiel Elliott have a ‘rough year’ on the Cowboys?
Faulk makes a good point in the sense that teams know that Elliott can beat them. Going back to 2019, the most recent season Elliott and Prescott played an entire year together, Zeke had 18 or more carries in six of their eight wins. Dallas was also 1-3 in games he had 13 or fewer carries.
In 2020, Elliott ran the ball 19 or more times in four of the Cowboys’ six wins, and Dallas was 0-6 when he carried it 14 times or fewer (not including the one game he missed).
Obviously, a lot goes into winning/losing a football game, but teams knew the Cowboys couldn’t beat them passing the ball last season, so they stacked the box and made it difficult for Elliott to run. It resulted in the second-fewest carries of his career with the 2017 campaign being the only season he had fewer, and Elliott only played in 10 games that year.
The only problem with Faulk’s theory is that Prescott has clearly shown he can carve up a defense if it allows him to. In 2019, he threw for 4,902 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. And in 2020, he averaged over 370 yards per game before going down with his injury. The 2016 fourth-round pick also recorded 403 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in Week 1 against the Bucs.
So, the Cowboys’ problem the past couple of years hasn’t been Prescott; it has been their defense. Opposing teams constantly score a ton of points on Dallas, which makes for more passing situations on offense, and, in turn, fewer carries for Zeke.
All in all, though, Faulk is right: Defenses aren’t allowing Elliott to run the ball. Prescott and the receivers just shouldn’t be getting all the blame. The Cowboys’ D deserves a lot of it.
But with a couple of upgrades to that unit this year (especially at defensive coordinator), it has a chance to be much improved in 2021. We may just have to wait for Dallas to play a team that doesn’t have a Buccaneers-like offense to see what kind of year it will be for Elliott.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference