Elliott will play through knee pain to boost Cowboys’ rush attack: ‘We’re a better football team when we can run it’

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The last time Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott didn’t log double-digit carries in a game was Week 2… of the 2017 season. In fact, prior to Sunday’s nine-attempt outing versus Kansas City, that was the only contest of Elliott’s pro career in which he was active but had fewer than 10 rushes.

On a day when the entire Cowboys offense was stuck in neutral, the Dallas ground attack was abandoned early. Ignoring Tony Pollard’s 31-yard direct-snap scamper (the longest play of the game) as an anomaly, the Cowboys rushing tandem averaged 3.4 yards on their other 15 combined totes.

It might be easy to think back on the scenes of Elliott limping around after being dragged down awkwardly by Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay as the reason for a lightened workload, but Elliott played through the rest of the game. And he says he’ll do so again on Thursday when the Raiders come to town.

“I mean, my knee,” Elliott sighed to reporters at The Star on Tuesday. “It’s all right. I mean, it’s sore. But it’s been sore. I would say it doesn’t feel any different than it did this time last week.”

Despite sitting seventh leaguewide in rushing yards, Elliott hasn’t had a statistically dominant 2021. He’s had just two games of over 100 yards, the only two games where he carried 20 times or more.

The two-time rushing champ admits he’s been banged up this year, even though he’s always able to recover enough in time to play again the next game.

“I’d say it’s gotten better,” Elliott said of his knee. “Obviously, if I land on it or I get twisted up and tangled, I’m going to get some pain there. But it’s more temporary pain. It’s kind of like how you stub your toe and you’ve got to walk it off. That’s kind of what it’s like.”

Head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday that he expected Elliott to once again rally in time for game day.

“I think he will,” the coach said, then adding a disclaimer. “You’ve got to remember, when I ask the players, it’s, ‘I’m fine. I’ll go.’ So the conversation with the trainers… I have no reason to think he won’t go.”

Elliott was seen putting in some work with the Cowboys’ director of rehabilitation before Tuesday’s practice session.

“I warm up with Britt [Brown],” Elliott pointed out. “I’m going to continue to get my treatments, go see my PT, just do what I can to get it ready for the game.”

“It’s football,” Elliott added. “You get hurt, you’re not going to be 100 percent. I’m tough. I can play through it.”

As for getting the run game going again, McCarthy didn’t seem overly worried about the team’s recent downward trend, but admitted that the balance isn’t where he would like.

“You look at the productivity of our offense, when the ball is distributed between rushes and completions, we’re a juggernaut,” McCarthy explained. “We didn’t get the ball distributed [against Kansas City]. And part of that is: we normally run the ball 30-plus times. When our numbers are at its best, that’s part of the equation. But, hey, it’s different when you’re in the game and you’re calling it, how you handle certain things that go on throughout the game. A little more efficiency on first and second down, particularly, would’ve been beneficial. But we’ll get back at it this week against the Raiders.”

Elliott was well aware that the team’s slow start across the board may have necessitated more passing in Week 11 and hopes the offense will be able to find early success on Thanksgiving Day. The Raiders defense is tied for fourth-worst in the NFL in terms of average yards allowed per rush.

“I understand as the game went along why we got away from the run game,” Elliott said, “but I think running the football has to be important to us. I think it helps this offense. I think we’re a better football team when we can run it well.”

It’s not scheme. It’s not a matter of which offensive linemen are playing or not. And it’s certainly not about Elliott’s knee, to hear him tell it.

“We’ve just got to go out there and execute better in the run game. I think it’s that simple,” Elliott said.

“I just think we’ve got to kind of lock back in and get it going.”

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