He’s not the same. They shouldn’t have paid him. Those are just a few of things said about All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott during the 2019 season. After a six-week journey of negotiations with Owner Jerry Jones, the two-time rushing champ signed a six-year 90 million dollar extension with 50 million in guarantees just days prior to the season opener vs the New York Giants.
With only a few practices under his belt, Elliott looked to begin getting himself into game shape, which you can only do by actually playing football. Elliott traditionally averaged around 75 yards in season openers. In this one, however, he would share the load with rookie Tony Pollard as each finished with 13 carries. Elliott only managed 53 yards, but that was good for over four yards per attempt, with only days of preparation.
The next two weeks saw Elliott start to find his groove and inch him closer to being the best running back in the NFL, a status he’s earned since his rookie season in 2016. He would grind out 111 tough yards on 23 carries vs the Washington Redskins in Week 2. A week later vs the Miami Dolphins, his 125-yard performance combined with Pollard’s own 100-yard game made them the first set of Cowboys running backs to each run for over 100 yards in the same game since 1998. Also, his 289 yards were the most he had ever gained in the first three games of any season.
His first real stumbling block came on the road in Week 4 vs the New Orleans Saints. In a low-scoring defensive battle, Elliott could never get going due in large part to the Cowboys offensive line not being able to establish the line of scrimmage. He finished with a lackluster 35 yards on 18 carries as the Cowboys lost their first game of the season.
Week 5 vs the Green Bay Packers would end up being one of the worst performances of the season for the Cowboys. Their defense couldn’t stop Running Back Aaron Jones who had 182 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. On the offensive side, Dak Prescott threw two interceptions on the first three offensive drives of the game which led to a 17-0 halftime deficit. Elliott could have had a lot more than the 62 yards he gained on just 12 carries, but with the Cowboys down as much as 28 points, he never found a groove.
Week 6 vs the New York Jets was a tail of two halves for Elliott. In the first, he gained 35 yards on 10 carries as the Cowboys offense struggled. However, the second half saw Elliott spearhead a furious comeback with 70 yards on 18 carries. The Cowboys fell short 24-22 but this was Elliott’s third 100-yard performance in the first six weeks.
The next two games proved Elliott was firmly in his groove and had knocked off any rust from not having participated in training camp. He set the physical tone of the Cowboys Week 7 showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles when he ran over Safety Malcolm Jenkins. He would rush for 111 yards on 22 carries as the Cowboys won easily 37-10. The next week on Monday Night Football vs the Giants saw Elliott have his season-best of 139 yards in another dominant win 37-18. This was his third consecutive 100-yard performance and his fifth in the first eight games.
Elliott would fail to reach 100 yards in the next five games, for a combination of reasons. He averaged less than 20 carries per game which is a number he should always get to. Against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, he was dominant in the first half with 61 and 56 yards respectively. However, he had a combined eight carries in the second half of those two games. When the Cowboys played the Chicago Bears, he carried the ball eight times on the opening drive, only to see just 11 attempts in the final 51 minutes of gameplay.
Elliott closed the season strong with 286 yards in the final three games, including two more 100-yard outings.
So, let’s summarize Elliott’s 2019 season. He had his lowest total amount of carries (301) in a full season having shared the load with Pollard. Elliott finished fourth in rushing yards (1,357), tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (12), second in yards from scrimmage (1,777), and tied for first in 100-yard games (7). Mind you, he played with the NFL’s second-leading passer and two 1,100-yard receivers. I’d say he more than earned the contract he signed in September.
There was concern that Elliott wouldn’t be the same guy after holding out for long-term financial security. How did he respond? He finished in the top-five in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards from scrimmage, and 100-yard games. Remember, he did this while having the ball taken out of his hands several times when he was on fire. I think it’s safe to say, the premature demise of Ezekiel Elliott has been greatly exaggerated.