Some things change and yet some things remain the same. Over the last year, so much has changed with the Dallas Cowboys' offense that it's easy to forget just how much continuity they've had as well. Despite the significant changes to the coaching staff since the beginning of the 2018 season, the Cowboys offense remains relatively intact.
At the start of the 2018 season, the offense was coordinated by Scott Linehan. In 2019, Jason Garrett handed the keys to the offense — mostly — to Kellen Moore with excellent results. Now there's a new head coach at the top of the hierarchy in Mike McCarthy.
Amidst the changes from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore and Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy, much of the Dallas Cowboys identity remains. Namely, the focus on getting the football to Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
Speaking to the media last week at the NFL Scouting Combine, McCarthy talked about the importance of getting the ball to your playmakers, specifically mentioning Ezekiel Elliott.
In his answer, McCarthy said, “Zeke will touch the ball plenty in our offense” and “Zeke will be a primary focus for us offensively.”
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys threw the football more than they had in previous seasons and much of the NFL is going to a more pass-first focus on offense. In 2018, the Cowboys threw the ball 51% of the time and in 2019 that increased to 54%. The expectation is that with Mike McCarthy coming to the Cowboys that their pass rate will increase even further.
In 2018, Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers threw the ball on 63% of their plays.
One thing that McCarthy's made a point of since his opening press conference back in January is that they will tailor their offensive and defensive schemes to the personnel on the roster. That should lead us to believe that they'll continue to be a balanced offensive team with one of the best running games in the NFL and a passing game that took an enormous leap in 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott has averaged 24.25 touches per game through the first 56 games of his career and there's no reason to believe that touch count will decrease all that much. With the offensive line and play-calling continuity, the Cowboys will employ this season, Ezekiel Elliott will continue to get a healthy amount of touches moving forward.
The Dallas Cowboys have invested a lot in Ezekiel Elliott — fourth overall pick in 2016 and the richest running back contract to date — and will continue to play to that strength. It just so happens that the passing game has also become a strength for this offense. One element of the west coast offense is to throw the ball to the running backs, and Elliott is a really good pass-catching back.
In 1988, a season the San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl, Running Back Roger Craig carried the football 310 times for 1,502 yards and caught 76 passes for 534 yards and a combined 10 touchdowns.
More recently when the Packers made the playoffs in 2016, Ty Montgomery on just 36% of the offensive snaps led Green Bay in rushing with 77 rushes for 457 yards and three touchdowns while catching 44 passes for 348 yards. In 2016, Green Bay running backs combined for 80 receptions.
Though the Cowboys may throw the ball more, it won't lessen Ezekiel Elliott's value in the offense or how much he'll touch the ball. The west coast offense wants to get the ball in the running back's hands both on the ground and through the air. The Cowboys can improve in how they throw the ball to Elliott in the passing game as opposed to relying on him as simply a dump-off option.
Even with a new head coach, offensive line coach, and some evolution of the offense Ezekiel Elliott should have another big season in 2020 as a major component of the Dallas Cowboys offense. Though people may debate the value of running backs in today's NFL, the Cowboys have one of the best running backs in the game and will continue to get him the football moving forward.