One of the hottest debates among Cowboys Nation this offseason is about how Dallas should structure their offensive gameplan.
On one hand there is the two time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott. A former fourth overall pick who has shouldered a workload second to none over the past three seasons, Elliott is often regarded as the Cowboys’ best skill player and most effective offensive player as well.
On the other hand, however, are the facts about how to be successful on offense in today’s NFL. The numbers suggest that the effectivity of an offense revolves around the effectiveness of their passing game, not their rushing game. In fact, even as play action remains one of the most efficient plays in all of football, play-by-play data suggests that how often or how well a team runs the football doesn’t matter much in terms of predicting play action success.
Kellen Moore’s hiring as offensive coordinator may mean more creativity, especially pre-snap, for the Cowboys offense, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “more passing, less running.” With all of the former quarterbacks the Cowboys have amongst their coaching staff, though, you have to wonder how the offensive approach may change this season.
Apart from all the data analysis, there is still reason for fans to desire that Ezekiel Elliott has the ball in his hands less often going forward. Can the Cowboys rely on him to carry the incredible load he has through his first three seasons? Maybe they can. After all he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down just yet, and he certainly isn’t going to ask for less carries late in the season.
The last thing you want, or need, though is for Elliott’s body to begin to feel the effect of all these touches, and potentially break down earlier than the franchise hoped for when selecting him fourth overall.
Such is the life of a running back. Teams will hand you the ball and ride you until they physically can’t anymore. And once they can’t, you’re often forced out the door. The Cowboys don’t seem to have any intentions of pushing Elliott out the door, however, as Stephen Jones has repeatedly called extending his contract a priority of the franchise.
If Dallas intends to pay Elliott and keep him around longterm, they may want to start to think about having him ready for his later years. During the draft they certainly took steps to do so, but it’s much easier to give Elliott less carries in theory than it is to give him less carries on gameday when this stuff counts.
And there’s no way we can fault the Cowboys for that mindset.