Ezekiel Elliott has yet to miss a game during his Cowboys tenure due to injury. He doesn’t think his current calf issue will keep him out of Sunday’s contest against San Francisco. Neither does his coach. And neither does the team owner. But No. 21’s presence in the Dallas backfield is no longer the magic bullet it used to be.
The running back tweaked a calf muscle during Week 13’s game against Baltimore. He played through it last week versus Cincinnati. While he maintains he will do so again this Sunday, he was held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday as the team prepares.
“Understandably, he’s a little further away this week than he was last week, because he played in the game,” head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters via virtual press conference on Friday. “I still plan on him playing Sunday. Today will be important, and the amount of work that he gets tomorrow will factor. All things look like he’s going to play in the game. But as a comparable, and rightfully so after coming off of a game Sunday, he’s a little further behind than where he was this time last week.”
Owner Jerry Jones was more emphatic when asked if Elliott would be in the huddle this week.
“Absolutely,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan. “Absolutely. Now, that’s Jerry Jones saying it, and that’s not my ankle and my hamstring and my knee, so it’s easier for me to say. But in terms of my understanding of where he is, in terms of knowing Zeke- which is huge- it’s hard to keep that guy down from the standpoint of something physical. He understands. He wrote the book on how to play with pain and how to be compromised, physically, to play. So I expect him to play.”
But should Cowboys fans expect Elliott to be especially productive? That, sadly, is a different question entirely.
Elliott is averaging the fewest yards per carry (3.9) and yards per game (64) of his pro career. At that exact pace, reaching 1,000 yards on the season is going to be close. Elliott stands at 832; he’ll need 168 over the final three games to reach the benchmark he’s hit in every season except 2017, when he was suspended for six games. And even then, he finished right on the doorstep, with 983.
To crack a thousand, Elliott will need to average 56 yards per game against the 49ers, Eagles, and Giants. That doesn’t sound like much for the two-time rushing champ. It certainly wasn’t for the Elliott of 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019. In those seasons, he averaged 108.7, 98.3, 95.6, and 84.8 yards per game played, respectively.
But 2020 Zeke hasn’t been that guy. Not even close. Again, he’s averaging 64 yards per game this year. He has only one 100-yard outing this entire season.
He failed to top 56 rushing yards against: Seattle, Cleveland, Arizona, Washington (the first time), Pittsburgh, Washington (the second time), and Cincinnati. He just barely cleared that number in the Cowboys’ first meeting with Philadelphia. The 49ers and Giants? They’re both currently ranked in the league’s top eight for fewest rushing yards allowed. If he’s going to roll the odometer over to 1K, he’s got an uphill road ahead of him.
#Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had a total of just six games with fewer than 50 yards rushing in four seasons under Jason Garrett. He could match that total Sunday in his first season under Mike McCarthy.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) December 18, 2020
To be fair, Elliott has seen his snap count drop over the last few months. Is that simply because backup Tony Pollard has deliberately been given an increased role as a planned change-of-pace? Or has Pollard’s noticeable burst and shiftiness helped relegate the former first-round draft pick to more of a platoon player? Is Elliott producing less because of Pollard? Or is Pollard producing more thanks to Elliott’s struggles? Chicken or the egg?
Whatever the reason behind the funk, Elliott is eager to keep chipping away in order to break out of it.
“It would feel good to stack some success and stack some victories,” he said this week, per the team website.
“We have three games,” Elliott added. “We’re still in it. We’re not out of it. So these last three games are important. We want to win these three games so we can put ourselves in a position to win the division.”
That, of course, seems mathematically improbable. But right now, Elliott notching another 1,000-yard campaign- once a given in Dallas- isn’t even terribly likely.
To his credit, though, Elliott says he’s focused only on team wins, not personal achievements.
“I’m a competitor over everything,” he said. “I’m not really trying to relate this year to next year. Every time we go out there we go out there to win a football game. I just think it’s important for this group of men to finish the season strong and do our best to win football games.”