After his worst statistical season in 2020, Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott used the offseason to get into the best shape of his career thanks to Josh Hicks, a local trainer. Using drills to focus speed and agility, Elliott looked quicker and more decisive while carrying the football heading into the 2021 season, which prompted many to predict a bounce-back campaign for the two-time rushing champion.
The Cowboy's first opponent was the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the previous two seasons, they've led the NFL in fewest rushing yards per game. This forced the Cowboys to attack mostly through the air and Elliott would only gain 33 yards on just 11 carries. However, a less flashy aspect of his skill set was on display in Week 1, pass blocking.
That didn't stop his critics from downplaying his efforts, but on Wednesday, Elliott fired back.
“If you know football, you can tell someone had a solid game without having the best statistics,” Elliott said. “If you don't understand that, you should probably study a little more.”
Dak Prescott was masterful against the Buccaneers in his first game in 11 months. He completed 42 of his 58 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns. From a clean pocket, he was 33 out of 41 for 294 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. A major reason for Prescott having the time he had was the exceptional pass blocking of Elliott. He took on blitzing linebackers and defensive backs all night as Prescott carved up a top-five defense from a season ago that returned all 11 starters.
There are other running backs in Elliott's position who may have gotten frustrated with such a lackluster showing on the stat sheet. Elliott is of a different mindset though, and he understands the importance of being a complete running back.
“Every play I'm given a job. My job is to do my job to the best of its ability,” Elliott said. “I take a lot of pride in being well-rounded. Blitz pickup is big for a running back. You have to keep the quarterback safe and untouched.”
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Elliott also talked about how he's hopeful that Prescott's success throwing the football will lead to teams focusing more on the pass and give him more opportunities to run. However, he understands that the flow of the game against the Buccaneers caused a change in the Cowboy's approach offensively.
“It wears the defense down,” Elliott said. “Playing the run is tough. It's more physical. It's hard to play the run for four quarters. But last week, just, their whole plan was around not letting us run the football and making us throw the ball. I mean, it showed.”
The Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday on the road. This will be another big early-season test for America's Team. With backup Terence Steele getting the start at right tackle in place of La'el Collins who is currently suspended, Elliott could see more carries to offset what the Cowboys may lack in pass protection.
Although Elliott showed his versatility against the Buccaneers as a pass blocker he's still used to shouldering a big load. He came into this season with over 1,400 carries in his first five seasons, and he's still ready whenever the Cowboys need to feed him the football.
“I'm definitely hungry,” Elliott said.
Rushing yards don't tell the whole story about the effectiveness of a running back. Elliott proved that in Week 1 with a pass-blocking tutorial and validated why the Cowboys signed him to a $90 million deal in 2019.