There are several players on the Dallas Cowboys that need to rebound from a disappointing 2020 season. However, if one player needs to return to form, it’s Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott came into 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19 during the summer. There’s no telling what kind of impact that had on his conditioning and performance throughout the season. Ezekiel Elliott should return to form with an offseason to get right, and the Cowboys could certainly use him.
What went down in 2020 wasn’t entirely Ezekiel Elliott not having a good season. From a statistical standpoint, it wasn’t his best. But there’s context to consider when looking at any individual performance from last season.
Elliott, just like running buddy Dak Prescott and the other quarterbacks, was impacted by the offensive line’s inconsistencies. No Tyron Smith or La’el Collins for nearly all of the season, and no continuity at center and left guard hurt Elliott’s ability to produce consistently last season.
He suffered career lows in rushing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and runs of 15+ yards. His 22 runs of 10+ yards were the second-lowest of his career, as were the 2.82 yards after contact per attempt. Fumbles were a huge issue early in the season.
In the first six games of the year, Elliott had five fumbles. He returned to baseline the rest of the year, finishing with just one fumble in his final nine games of the year.
If there is an area to be encouraged by, Ezekiel Elliott’s elusive rating per Pro Football Focus was the second-highest of his career. This stat measures what the running back does with the football independent of the blocking in front of him. We know that the offensive line’s production was a fraction of what it’s been in the past and yet Elliott was still able to produce at times throughout the season.
Over the last couple of years, Elliott has attempted to change his body composition to become quicker, more agile, and more elusive. As the offensive line’s talent level has dropped off since his rookie season, Elliott has had to do more on his own. At times it hasn’t looked pretty, but there are times when the blocking hasn’t held up and Elliott’s able to manufacture a positive run.
Under Kellen Moore, the Cowboys have begun to emphasize a vertical passing game. That aggressive mentality has helped the Cowboys become one of the best passing teams in the NFL over the last couple of seasons. And at the same time, the Cowboys still are working to keep Ezekiel Elliott heavily involved in the offense. As the passing game continues to grow as a threat opposing defenses have to account for, it should make Elliott’s job a bit easier.
Elliott has been the guy that took the pressure off of the offense over the years, but after a couple of down years, teams might begin focusing on slowing the Cowboys’ plethora of pass catchers. With more attention directed to the outside, Elliott should find more running room.
Hopefully, a healthy Tyron Smith and La’el Collins along with a further developed Tyler Biadasz at center will lead to a jump in production for a reignited Ezekiel Elliott in 2021.