There's a new narrative amongst Dallas Cowboys fans and evaluators around the NFL landscape when it comes to All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott. Surprisingly, the word these days is that Elliott has underperformed and isn't the same running back we've seen in his first three seasons. People are saying he has no burst, doesn't hit holes with authority and hasn't lived up to his six-year 90 million dollar contract with 50 million in guarantees. With that being said, I personally think these opinions and thoughts on Elliott are vastly exaggerated and certainly premature. Let's take a look into Elliott's 2019 season so far and how the pace he's on measures up to his previous three years in the NFL when his ability was never questioned.
Elliott is traditionally a slow starter and that didn't change this season. He had just 53 yards in the Cowboys 35-17 victory over the New York Giants in Week 1. He would bounce back, though, rushing for over 100 yards vs the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins which gave him the best three-game start of his career so far.
Week 4 vs the New Orleans Saints is when the narrative on Elliott started to shift. In a defensive battle, the Saints held Elliott to just 35 yards on 18 carries. What doesn't get talked about enough is how the Cowboys offensive line was manhandled on the line of scrimmage. As great as Elliott is neither he nor any other running back can produce if his line isn't up to par in terms of run blocking.
The following week vs the Green Bay Packers started off well for Elliott as he accumulated 58 yards on nine carries in the first half. Unfortunately, the Cowboys fell into a 24-0 hole early in the third quarter which essentially took Elliott out of the game. He finished with 62 yards on 12 carries which is over five yards per attempt. When he was used he was very effective but once you're down multiple touchdowns the best way to get back in the game is with the pass.
The next three weeks saw Elliott turn back the clock so to speak. After a slow start vs the New York Jets, Elliott ran for 70 yards in the second half on 18 carries and pushed his total to 105 yards for the game.
When the Philadelphia Eagles came to town in Week 7 Elliott quickly set the tone for what kind of night he was going to have. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Elliott broke a 13 yard run down to the one-yard line. What was special about the run was how he ran over Safety Malcolm Jenkins with authority which sent AT&T Stadium into an uproar. He would score on the next play putting the Cowboys up 14-0. In total, he racked up 111 yards on 22 carries as the Cowboys dominated the Eagles 37-10.
The Cowboys made their second appearance in Metlife Stadium vs the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 9. This would be a tour de force performance from Elliott as he ran all over the Giants rather it be up the middle or bouncing it to the outside. By games end, Elliott had 139 yards on 23 carries. Giving him his third consecutive 100-yard performance and his fifth overall for the season.
The last two games for Elliott have been a struggle running the football. He only managed 47 yards on 20 carries in large part due to the offensive line getting taken to the woodshed by the Minnesota Vikings defensive front.
This past Sunday vs the Detroit Lions the Cowboys were facing the NFL's 27 ranked run defense so a big game from Elliott was expected. However, the Lions defensive front won the battle on the line of scrimmage and neutralized Elliott all game long. He did reach the end zone twice via both the run and pass but his 45 yards on 16 carries weren't exactly ideal.
Now that we've reviewed the first 10 games of the season, let's see how 2019 matches up to Elliott's first three years at this point.
Ezekiel Elliott's rushing total through 10 games each season
- 2016: 223 carries 1,102 yards 9 tds
- 2017: 242 carries 983 yards 7 tds (only played 10)
- 2018: 191 carries 953 yards 5 tds
- 2019: 194 carries 833 yards 7 tds
So, with the information above let's compare and contrast a little. Elliott's rookie year was simply in another orbit. Those numbers through 10 games are better than most running backs can produce in an entire season. Looking at 2019 specifically you can clearly see that he's right on track with his production from the previous two seasons despite what the naysayers say.
Why are fans and the media saying Elliott is struggling even though it is clear he's not? It's simple, they've been spoiled by his greatness. He's currently eighth in the NFL in rushing yards. In his first three seasons, he led the league in rushing twice and led in average yards per game in the other so seeing him barely in the top 10 is odd and makes people overreact.
This season, he has his third-fewest rushing attempts but he's also tied for his second-most rushing touchdowns through 10 games in any season of his career, pretty impressive. At his current pace, he will finish with 1,333 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's Pro Bowl/All-Pro level production that is being dismissed by the masses.
So, let's put Elliott's current pace for 2019 in perspective. If he continues this for the rest of this season and gives the Cowboys these same numbers for the next four seasons, Elliott will have 10,713 yards and 83 touchdowns in his first eight seasons, and he'll only be 28 years old. I think we can stop with this notion that he's not having a good year based on this.
This is similar to what happened to NFL Hall of Famer and all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith during the 90s. In 1995, he had his best season ever with 1,773 yards and 25 touchdowns which was at the time the most in a season in NFL history. In 1996, he followed that up with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, in his seventh season. This was looked at as a slightly down year for him which is insane. 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns in any era is a high level of production. However, as I mentioned earlier, fans and media get spoiled by these huge seasons and it gives them a false sense of reality that they'll happen every year.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ezekiel Elliott or his play. He's right on par with where he normally is during this point in the season. So all the complaining, whining and throwing dirt on his name is silly. His five 100-yard games are tied for the second-most in the NFL in 2019. He's still the top priority for teams to eliminate every week, even with Dak Prescott having a historic season. Feeding 21 is still a vital part of the Cowboys winning games and making a run at a second consecutive NFC East crown.