The Dallas Cowboys offense looks very different in 2018 than it did at the beginning of the 2017 season. Gone are mainstays Dez Bryant (released) and Jason Witten (retired), and there's been some minor turnover on the offensive line with Jonathan Cooper replaced by 2018 second round pick Connor Williams.
Another Williams, Terrance, may soon be given his walking papers if the league deems a suspension is in order -- if only because the Dallas Cowboys can get some cap relief through a release in that case.
Today, let's look at what a season could look like for Ezekiel Elliott in 2018.
Before you can look forward, it's important to look back.
Though prior production does not predict future success, in the case of Ezekiel Elliott, because of his age and durability, we can use his past production to extrapolate what he could do looking forward.
In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and recorded 1,994 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. That while playing only 15 games -- the team sat most of its starters in the week 17 finale because they had already locked up home field advantage.
At Elliott's 108.7 rushing yards per game, had he played in the week 17 contest against the Eagles, it's possible that his rushing total looks even more impressive as it would hit 1,738 rushing yards. He would have been well over 2,100 total yards on the season.
In the earlier game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Elliott rushed for 96 yards and had four receptions for 52 yards.
His totals are already impressive before you factor the 16th game into his 2016 stats.
In 2017, Elliott, after being railroaded by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, had to sit out six games. In the ten games he played he rushed for 983 yards, seven touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. This includes the nightmare at Mile High in which Elliott only rushed for eight yards on nine carries. It was a pitiful performance from the team all around.
If we extrapolate Elliott's numbers from the ten games he played for a 16-game season, we're looking at 1,579 rushing yards, 11.2 touchdowns, 430 receiving yards on 41 receptions, and three touchdown receptions.
The touchdown numbers aren't as impressive as his 2016 season, but the total yardage is almost right on par with his 2016 numbers; the Broncos game included.
In 2016, Elliott had a better yards per carry number (5.1) than he did in 2017 (4.1), but he saw an increase in targets per game from 2.43 in 2016 to 3.8 in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys figured they needed to use him more in the passing game as his receptions per game also increased from 2.1 to 2.6.
It's clear that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best three running backs in the NFL. Of that there is no doubt. He's right up there with Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson. Each are great in their own right and each are a ton of fun to watch on Sundays.
So, based on his first two seasons in the league, what can we expect in 2018?
First we should look at how the changes on the offensive side of the ball could impact Elliott and the running game.
Despite how we might feel about their performances in 2017, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are losses. Even though they didn't perform as well as their reputations might suggest, they were threats that defenses had to account for in the passing game, which made things easier for the running game.
Both were on the radar of defensive coordinators and both were effective blockers in the running game.
The Cowboys will be relying on tight ends who have very little experience in the NFL. Aside from Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns, the wide receiver group is lacking experience as well. Williams, at the moment, is no guarantee to be on the week one 53-man roster.
It's possible that the team could be better in the passing game because they have more receivers who are good at creating separation and getting open, but we'll have to see.
Opposing defensive coordinators are going to line up to stop the run and make the passing game beat them.
But that has always been the case. For 24 games, Dak Prescott rose to the challenge and beat defenses. Only the final eight games of 2017, when without Elliott and tackle Tyron Smith did the Dallas Cowboys struggle on offense.
The biggest addition to the Dallas Cowboys offense has to be second round pick Connor Williams. Jonathan Cooper was a good player for the team last year, but Williams is definitely an upgrade.
Williams moves over from tackle at the University of Texas to guard for the Dallas Cowboys. He has the power and physicality to play on the interior as well as good athleticism and agility to work to the outside and second level.
Williams next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick will be tremendous in the run game, and Dallas' starting five on the offensive line is arguably the best it's been since the early 90's.
Fullback Jamize Olawale, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, is a nice addition to the team. He's a versatile player who can catch the ball out of the backfield or take some carries on running plays. He's an experienced lead blocker who should help open holes for Elliott when the team is in jumbo or goal line formations.
Tavon Austin, who the team acquired during the draft for a sixth round pick, adds a speed and big play element that will keep teams on their toes when Austin is on the field. How exactly they plan to deploy Austin or what his snap count will be remains to be seen. There is no questioning that when he's on the field he takes pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
The team drafted Dalton Schultz in the fifth round in 2018 and, while he's not Jason Witten, he's an experienced blocker in a pro-style offense that saw Stanford rush for 200 yards a game. Bryce Love, Stanford's lead runner ran for more than 2,100 yards and was a finalist for the Heisman in 2017. Schultz is Bryan Broaddus' favorite to be the starting tight end when training camp breaks in late August.
I believe that will be Dalton Schultz. https://t.co/Ejml7i0pcR
Allen Hurns was the biggest free agent addition to the team. Though he's had injury issues, he's been a fine wide receiver in the NFL. In 2016, he put together his best season as he totaled more than 1,000 yards and had eight touchdown receptions. He'll likely start along with Cole Beasley in 11-personnel formations and has a similar ability to get open that Beasley does.
That being said, he isn't Dez Bryant.
Putting it All Together - Rushing Total
We won't know exactly what kind of effect the roster churn will have on the overall productivity of the running game until we start playing games, but at the moment, I believe the losses and gains will balance themselves out.
Add in the year-three progression of Dak Prescott and I think the offense gives us reason to be optimistic for 2018.
For Ezekiel Elliott, we can look at his two-year totals and get a pretty good idea of what he'll do in year three.
Over two years, Elliott is averaging 22.6 carries a game, which would put him at about 361 carries over a 16 game season. That would be 49 more than his 2016 total and 25 fewer than his 2017 pace.
Seems reasonable to expect Elliott will see that many carries a game.
Let's say he gets the 361 carries that he's averaged (with his 2017 pace included) over two seasons in the NFL at his career yards per carry average (4.6), that would put him at 1,660 rushing yards this season.
If he received his 2017 pace for carries at 4.6 yards per carry then we'd be looking at 1,781 rushing yards. At his 2016 carry total it would be 1,481 rushing yards.
To me that's about what you should expect from the best running game in the NFL. Anything less than 4.6 yards per carry and 1,400 rushing yards would be a disappointment.
But let's look at what his floor and ceiling could be.
Again, looking back, his 2017 was his worst of the two seasons in regards to yards per carry and 16-game rushing yard pace. If we take his 4.1 yards per carry (which to me makes a good floor for his production) and extrapolate that over his career average of carries per game at 22.6 and a 16 game season, Elliott would rush for 1,480 yards on the season. If he received only 322 carries like he did in 2016, that would equate to 1,320 yards rushing at 4.1 yards per carry.
So, a floor for Ezekiel Elliott looks to be anywhere from 1,320 yards to 1,480 yards rushing this season.
While not his 2016 season, that's a good season for an NFL rusher in today's game. Good but not great. While Dallas could win with that, it would be a disappointing rushing total over a 16 game season.
Now let's look at an optimistic view of what Ezekiel Elliott could do.
If we take his high for yards per carry of 5.1 in 2016, we're looking at anywhere from 1,631 (at 21.5 carries/game) to 1,937.7 (24.2 carries/game). If he got his average of 22.6 carries per game, we'd be looking at 1,844 rushing yards over a 16 game season.
Any of those numbers would be great seasons for Elliott, and it seems reasonable that he could flirt with a 2,000 yard season if he gets the ball at his 2017 pace.
Putting it All Together - Receiving Total
Now, looking at Ezekiel Elliott as a receiver out of the backfield, it was clear they wanted to get Elliott more involved in the passing game in 2017. In the first four games of the season, Elliott received 19 targets and caught 16 passes.
As I mentioned before, his targets per game, receptions per game, and receiving yards per game all increased from 2016 to 2017.
He's averaged nearly 11 yards per reception over his two seasons in the NFL because of his speed, hands, and physicality. He's excellent on screens and hopefully Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan will get him even more involved in 2018.
If they decide they want to get him even more involved in the passing game than he was in 2017, I could see an increase in targets per game from 3.8 to about 4.2 targets per game. Remember, they value Elliott's role as a pass protector, which helps Dak Prescott as much as the offensive line does.
So, what could Elliott's numbers in the passing game look like in 2018 if they get him even slightly more involved in the passing game?
4.2 targets per game would be about 67 targets over a 16 games season. If we use his career catch percentage of 75.3%, Elliott would be looking at about 50 receptions in 2018, which isn't a far cry from his 2017 pace of 41.6 receptions. If he sticks with his career average of 10.9 yards per reception, then we're looking at a 545 yards receiving on the season. Even if he only manages eight yards per reception, the 400 yards would still be a career high for Ezekiel Elliott.
50 receptions is probably the high number for Elliott, while the low is about what he did in 2016 at 32.
Elliott is a threat in the passing game. We've seen him take screens to the house each of the last two seasons, against Pittsburgh in 2016 and San Francisco in 2017. With Tavon Austin in play to give the Dallas Cowboys more options with misdirection, Elliott's work in the screen game could become even more effective.
Touchdowns are far more difficult to predict than carries, yards, and receiving totals, but we can look back at his career thus far and see a pattern.
In 25 career games, Ezekiel Elliott has 25 total touchdowns. He averages a touchdown a game.
It's likely that we could see that average increase in 2018 with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, two huge red zone weapons, no longer on the team.
It's difficult to know exactly how a game will play out and what the game script will allow for a player like Ezekiel Elliott who does his best work when the team has a lead, but I'm going to bet that he hits 360 carries in 2018, which would put him at about 22.5 carries per game.
Some games he'll get more and some games less. I'm also going to assume that he returns to five yards per carry in 2018 with the addition of Connor Williams to help open holes and make the offensive line more athletic, physical, balanced, and complete than it was a year ago.
So, at 360 carries and five yards per carry, Ezekiel Elliott is looking at around 1,800 yards rushing. While that may look like an outlandish number, based on his career to this point, that's certainly achievable.
In the passing game, I see Elliott setting career highs in receiving at 45 receptions for 490 yards.
On the touchdown front, I'll stick with Elliott's touchdown per game averages and project he scores 16 total touchdowns.
Final Projections: 360 CAR, 1,800 Rush YDS, 60 TAR, 45 REC, 490 REC YDS, and 16 total TDs.
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Too high, too low, just right? What do you think we can expect from Ezekiel Elliott in 2018?
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
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