Tony Pollard thrives vs. 49ers in place of injured Ezekiel Elliott: Is he the Cowboys' best RB?

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Jason Owens
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The Dallas Cowboys got bad news ahead of Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Ezekiel Elliott would miss the first game of his career because of injury (calf).

It may have been a blessing in disguise. Tony Pollard got the start and torched the 49ers in a 41-33 Cowboys win. And with Washington losing to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys kept their slim playoff hopes alive.

While the postseason is a long shot in Dallas, Sunday’s game addressed a potentially more significant issue for the Cowboys. Is Pollard the best running back in Dallas?

Pollard leads Cowboys’ offense in start

The second-year back has put up better numbers than Elliott when he has carried the ball this season. On Sunday, he thrived in the featured role, tallying 132 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. His second score of the day arrived via a 40-yard scamper with 2:27 remaining that extended Dallas’ lead to 34-24.

He was a dual threat out of the backfield, tallying 69 rushing yards on 5.8 yards per carry while catching six Andy Dalton passes for 63 yards.

He has played well all season as Elliott’s backup. Coming into Sunday, Pollard tallied 339 yards on 4.5 yards per carry while catching 18 passes for 103 yards in a limited role behind Elliott. He thrived last season as a fourth-round rookie out of Memphis, posting 455 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry.

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) breaks through San Francisco 49ers tackle attempts on his way to the end zone for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
The Cowboys can likely add a running back controversy to their already complicated offseason. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Is Zeke on the decline?

Meanwhile, Elliott’s production has hit a wall.

After averaging 4.7 and 4.5 yards per carry the past two seasons, Elliott’s average has dropped to 3.9 yards per carry in 2020. Even more problematic is his ball security. Elliott’s fumbled six times this season, losing five of them.

The 25-year-old has a lot of mileage on his legs and appears to be on the decline heading into his sixth NFL season. He’s also coming off a bout with COVID-19 during the offseason. There’s no way to tell right now if that’s impacting his play.

Either way it’s not great news for the Cowboys considering he’s in the second season of a six-year, $90 million contract extension.

Meanwhile Pollard looks fresher out of the backfield and has lost a grand total of zero fumbles this season.

What will Cowboys do at RB next season?

With two games remaining, the 5-9 Cowboys remain a game behind a 6-8 Washington team that swept them and holds the tiebreaker for the NFC East. They’ll need to win out and see Washington lose its final two games while holding off the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles at the same time to win the division.

The postseason likely isn’t happening. The rest of this season will much more likely be about planning for what promises to be a turbulent offseason. With members of the coaching staff likely on their way out and a big contract decision on injured quarterback Dak Prescott looming, the Cowboys may also have a complicated running back controversy on their hands.

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