The Dallas Cowboys are 4-1 and are looking like one of the better teams in the NFL. Yes, Dak Prescott is back and is playing extremely well with 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions and completing 74% of his passes. However, the driving force offensively for the Cowboys since their Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard running the football at a high level.
Elliott has turned back the clock after his worst season in 2020. After just 33 yards in Week 1, Elliott has run for 419 yards in the last four games which includes back-to-back 100-yard performances against the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants. Through the first five weeks, Elliott is third in rushing (452 yards) and tied for second in rushing touchdowns (5) while averaging a career-best 5.3 yards per carry.
The two-time rushing champion has been setting the tone early in games and especially on first down. Of the running backs with at least 30 carries on first down, Elliott's 5.57 yards per carry is second in the NFL to his teammate Pollard at 7.13 yards. After a career-low six rushing touchdowns last season Elliott already has five in 2021.
All the hard work that Elliott put in during the offseason with trainer Josh Hicks has paid off greatly. He looks more explosive and agile than he has in years and his physical running style is wearing down defenses and making them honest against the run which sets up Prescott and the passing game to make plays. It's safe to say, the rumblings of his demise were exaggerated immensely.
Pollard showed flashes, albeit with limited opportunities, in his first two seasons of how big of a threat he is to take any play to the end zone when he touches the ball. So far in 2021, he's gotten more chances to show what he can do and to keep Elliott fresh, and it's worked. Pollard is 10th in the NFL with 325 rushing yards and is averaging an unreal 6.4 yards per carry for the season, the best for all running backs.
The Cowboys have so much trust in Pollard as a change of pace back to go along with Elliott that he's averaging over 10 carries per game. In Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers, Pollard took Elliott's role as the tone-setter by gaining 109 yards on 13 carries. Besides his 14 yards on just three carries in the season opener, Pollard has rushed for at least 60 yards in every game this season and is on pace for 1,105 yards currently.
Elliott and Pollard have completely different running styles. However, they have blended perfectly and made the Cowboys' offense that much more dangerous to defend. Elliott, the elder statesman, spoke recently about the bond he has with Pollard and how they challenge each other to be better players.
“We got a good brotherhood,” Elliott said. “We keep each other fresh. I mean, I think just all together, we want to see the best for each other. So we’re going to do everything we can to push each other, to challenge each other, to make each other better. To maybe, if there’s something I can help to help his game or something he can help me that's going to help my game, we just push each other to become better players.”
Pollard shared similar remarks as well.
“We’re very competitive, but we’re two different styles of running back,” Pollard said. “It’s big and it’s important, especially when you can have both of those guys on the same team. We just feed off each other. Nobody is competing against the next guy. We’re both going out there, doing our own thing.”
The one-two punch of Elliott and Pollard is arguably the best in the NFL at the running back position right now. Not only is it assisting the passing game but by constantly moving the chains Elliott and Pollard are keeping their defensive teammates fresh at all times. This ground and pound formula is paying off huge dividends for the Cowboys, and if it continues for the entire season, they will be a tough team for anyone to beat.