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Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley Out To Prove Running Backs Do “Matter”

Kevin Brady

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Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley Out To Prove Running Backs Do "Matter"
Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

Running backs don't matter.

If you are on the internet reading football takes, you've probably heard this one floated out there plenty of times. The idea is that running the football is a less-efficient way of playing offense, and that spending early draft capital on a seemingly replaceable position is a poor way of building a roster.

In some cases, this bears out. There is no statistically significant correlation between rushing success and play action success, nor is there any connection between teams who rush for the most yards in a season and number of wins in that same season. Passing has become more important than running for a plethora of reasons, and many of the numbers back this assumption up.

But then there are truly special running backs. Guys like the two starters in this week's divisional match up between the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Guys who are out to prove that running backs do matter to an offense, and are/will be looking to be paid like it.

Guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.Ezekiel Elliott Already Has His Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Two of the league's leading rushers in 2018, and the All Pro running backs for this season, Elliott and Gurley look to be a different breed of back. Old school runners with a new school pass catching twist, both Elliott and Gurley can provide value for their respective offenses in a variety of ways.

Both Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley caught upwards of 75 passes this season, with Gurley even surpassing the 80 catch mark. Both went well over 1,000 rushing yards this season as well, with both players even doing it in less than 16 games.

There's no question these are two of the best running backs in all football, and are expected to be catalysts of their respective offenses for a long time.


Still, more advanced numbers show even these two great backs may be "replaceable."

Not only did CJ Anderson replicate much of Gurley's production in his absence over the final two regular season games, but expected points added per touch suggests that Ezekiel Elliott is actually one of the Cowboys' least efficient targets on their offense. Of course, this has less to do with Elliott's ability and more to do with the type of targets and carries he gets throughout the game, but it is an interesting point nonetheless.

When you also consider how effective the Pittsburgh Steelers were at getting production out of backup running backs during Le'veon Bell's holdout, and how quickly DeMarco Murray fell off after leaving the Cowboys' offense and aging a bit, it's fair to wonder what the market price for a RB1 should be.

If any running backs are going to change the perception around the league that the position is replaceable, or that they shouldn't be paid like the top skill players at other positions on the offense, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley are the ones to do it.

Saturday night provides yet another gigantic, national stage for both these young stars to prove they're worth earn every penny they will be paid during their careers. Even if some continue to question the overall value of the position.

After all when you watch either of these offenses, especially that of the Dallas Cowboys, it begins to feel like running backs matter a lot.


Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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Maliek Collins on the Verge of a Breakout Season

Matthew Lenix

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Maliek Collins on the Verge of a Breakout Season

Maliek Collins has never lacked any ability on the field just the ability to stay on it. Foot and knee injuries have always seemed to get in the way when he's been on the brink of reaching his potential.

2019 is a contract year for Collins which means it's the most critical season of his young career. He hasn't wasted any time, though, showing what he's capable of when he doesn't have any physical limitations.

https://twitter.com/HelmanDC/status/1159533781188956161?s=19

John Owning on Twitter

Maliek Collins beats Connor William's with a swim move in 2v2s https://t.co/prL9GsG1rY

In the first video above, Collins gets a great burst off the line of scrimmage while he simultaneously gets his hands on Connor Williams first. He controls and pushes him right into Dak Prescott's face, forcing a throw out of bounds. On the next video, he again explodes off the ball and uses a great swim move to beat Williams again in 2 on 2 drills.


His dominance hasn't been limited to training camp practice, however, as evident in his performance this past Saturday in albeit a short amount of action.

These next two plays stand out for me specifically. In the first, he uses a very physical spin move that knocks the left guard off balance and puts him right in the quarterback's face. In a league that focuses on quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly, the sooner you can provide pressure from the interior the harder it is for a quarterback to stay in the pocket and throw effectively. In the next play, he utilizes a swim move after a quick jump off the line and is right in the face of the runner as he and Jaylon Smith combine for a TFL (tackle for loss).

John Owning on Twitter

Beautiful TFL for Maliek Collins. Swims inside the LG on the zone concept to get penetration. Quickly flattens, latches onto Henderson's jersey and drags him to the ground. Outstanding grip strength #Cowboys. https://t.co/6ZnpKSVsRv

Collins performing at a high level in 2019 doesn't just benefit him but also rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. While he's still acquiring the tools needed for the pro level under the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli he can watch and learn from Collins as he'll be right behind him as the team's backup 3-technique defensive tackle. Hill is probably still a year away from being a big contributor with Collins looking so refreshed and healthy so this is a great time to gain all the knowledge he can from a veteran. If that learning process comes along quickly, the Cowboys will have a very solid one-two punch alongside Antwaun Woods, the starter at the 1-technique.

Health, at least so far, seems to be on the side of Maliek Collins heading into the 2019 season, which is all he's ever lacked. Motivated by the opportunity to maximize his dollars for 2020, and a rookie being drafted at the same position, I look for Collins to not only have a breakout year but one that could garner a pro bowl nod, or at least be heavy in the conversation, which would mean great things for the Cowboys defensive front.


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Cowboys Nation Mailbag: What about Taco Charlton and Ezekiel Elliott?

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: El Reto VS Texans, Porque Bryant No Volverá

The 2019 regular season is now less than three weeks away and now is the time when we start getting down to the nitty-gritty. The "dress rehearsal" game is coming this Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Texans and a lot of the 53-man roster will likely be decided after that game.

As we inch closer to the regular season, the contract status for the Dallas Cowboys' newest version of the triplets and the construction of the 53-man roster will have even greater emphasis in the news.

Thanks for your questions this week. Let's did into this week's Cowboys Nation Mailbag.

I guess it depends on what segment of Cowboys Twitter you're talking about.

Contract situations and hold outs always create some tension within the fanbase. They expect players to show up for work as they do. You hear people talk about Elliott fulfilling the agreement of his contract. But what people don't understand is that rookie contracts and the rookie salary scale was negotiated by players already in the league to avoid rookies making Sam Bradford type money. The veterans and to some extent the owners didn't like the idea that rookies could hold out of training camp to negotiate their first contract.

So, when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was locked into a contract length (including a team option for a fifth season) and a salary and bonus for the length of that contract.

The other thing to consider is that Elliott is doing exactly what the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do. Though the Dallas Cowboys can fine him, Elliott is permitted by the CBA to seek a contract extension after the third season of his rookie contract, just like you saw Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints do earlier this summer.

I get that fans are frustrated by the idea of a player "not honoring his contract," but in the NFL, that's the way football goes. The owners don't always honor the contracts they've agreed to, cutting a player with guaranteed money left on his deal because his play might have dropped off or simply because he doesn't warrant the cap hit.

But as Mike Leslie of WFAA recently pointed out on Twitter, our jobs aren't like NFL jobs.


There are a lot of folks that understand that there is a business side to all of this. The players, the coaches, and a large segment of Cowboys Nation all understand where Ezekiel Elliott is coming from. Even the "running backs don't matter" truthers aren't throwing Ezekiel Elliott under the bus for holding out for a new contract.

As I've said before, don't get mad at Ezekiel Elliott or even the Dallas Cowboys for the current state of his contract negotiations. Get mad at the Los Angeles Rams for setting a precedent that Ezekiel Elliott is attempting to take advantage of.

Ezekiel Elliott is only doing what's permitted by the CBA. Though the negotiations continue to drag on, there's still three weeks left till the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time to get a deal done.

Until this holdout lasts until the regular season, you shouldn't worry.

Taco Charlton has done some nice things in the preseason thus far. He's been able to create pressure, and by Bobby Belt's splash metric, Taco Charlton is leading the team.

Obviously, this isn't the only way to evaluate talent, but it does give an indication that Taco Charlton has been good this preseason. I've long believed that Taco was going to make the 53-man roster for the sheer fact that he was a first-round draft pick. That may not be a good enough reason for some, but he's a player that the Dallas Cowboys won't give up on lightly. He's doing enough at this point in the preseason to warrant another year.

Cutting Taco Charlton in 2019 actually costs you money. It would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $3.5 million in 2019,  but they could save $1.3 million in 2020. It's not likely that the Cowboys will pick up his fifth-year rookie option, which would be for 2021. Financially, the only move that would make sense is a trade, which would cost the Dallas Cowboys only $1.3 million in dead money.

While I think Taco Charlton is a player that is destined for the 53-man roster, with reports that DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are about to be activated from the physically unable to perform (P.U.P) list, it may come down to a numbers game at defensive end.

Players like Dorance Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Kerry Hyder, and even Jalen Jelks may have something to say about Taco Charlton's spot on the 53-man roster, but I believe they give him another year to prove he's worth retaining.


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PFF Ranks Dak Prescott As Tier 3, 17th Overall Quarterback

Kevin Brady

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Dak Prescott Clutch in 4th Quarter & OT in Win Over Eagles 3

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the subject of constant debate around the football world. Now that it's getting time to pay him, those debates are even hotter.

As I discussed last week, Prescott has been much better than he's often given credit for, though the narrative continues to be that he is carried by his offensive line and rushing attack.

Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season, placing them both in tiers, and in traditional order as well. Prescott clocked in at 17th overall on their list, listed as a tier 3 NFL starting quarterback.

"Tier 3: Volatile or conservative quarterbacks whose production will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and play calling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation."

The other quarterbacks listed in Prescott's tier include Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, all ranked in front of him. Prescott is ahead of a couple of tier 3 passers as well, though, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr.


"Even with his added rushing ability, Prescott has settled in as a mid-tier quarterback whose production is more dependent on his supporting cast, and this will be a big year to see if he can get back to his rookie levels of efficiency."

Personally, I'd rank Prescott ahead of a decent number of those tier 3 quarterbacks, such as Stafford and Cousins. Overall, though, it's tough to have too big an issue with their assessment of Prescott and the Cowboys offense. He has been somewhat up-and-down during his time as the Cowboys starter, and saw a big spike in his play when given Amari Cooper as a weapon in the passing game a year ago.

While the entire fanbase is hopeful that he will improve on his mechanics and decision making under new leadership on offense, we can't bank on that happening just yet.

Still, Dak Prescott has looked excellent this preseason, and should be poised for a career year in 2019. I think there's a good chance he finds himself closer to Wentz and Watson on these types of rankings than Carr and Stafford by this time next season.


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