The Dallas Cowboys didn't just draft a running back with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. With needs elsewhere (particularly on defense), the selection of Ezekiel Elliott received some national scrutiny, simply because of his position.
Zeke is more than a running back though, but rather an athletic freak, and a player that is capable of perfectly executing the runs and receptions for Scott Linehan's offense that play to the strengths of the league's best offensive line.
As if a line of Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free could look any better, the full dominance they put on in the trenches is now being brought to life like never before thanks to the rookie Elliott.
Elliott is the engine to the 8-1 Cowboys, and he drove for two long touchdowns in Dallas' most recent win over the Steelers - the second of which won the game.
How did those plays happen? Let's find out with some Reel Talk:
First Quarter: Ezekiel Elliott 83-yard Screen Pass to the House!
The longest touchdown of Elliott's career came at a great time, late in the first quarter with the Cowboys trailing 12-3. Catching a screen pass from Prescott, #21 turned up field and was escorted by the Space Cowboys all the way into the end zone.
Pre-snap on @EzekielElliott's 83-yard screen pass TD.
With 18 yards to go for a first down, you see the Steelers showing some pressure off the right edge before the snap - which they would back out of into coverage.
Steelers dropped everyone you saw on the line pre-snap. A lot of attention going to @ninjafast22. Meanwhile, @EzekielElliott and his convoy:
Luckily for the Cowboys, they had the perfect play called, as the often-used fake jet sweep to Lucky Whitehead drew plenty of attention from the Steelers' defenders in short or intermediate zones. Before this ball is ever close to being in the hands of Elliott, you see the play developing with green grass in front of Zeke and this offensive line.
Not a defense in this universe that's stopping this TD from happening at this point. Not with this line, and not with Zeke Elliott.
All five linemen simply put a "hat on a hat", including center Travis Frederick swinging out to take on defenders in the second and third level. At full speed, Elliott picked up his final key block from Terrance Williams, and the rest was history.
Fourth Quarter: Ezekiel Elliott's 32-yard run to victory!
Elliott's long touchdown would spark the Cowboys for the rest of this game, as they fought back multiple times - only to see the lead change three times in the final two minutes, with Pittsburgh going up 30-29 with just 42 seconds to play.
With three timeouts at their disposal, the Cowboys felt comfortable handing the ball to Elliott from 38 yards out with time running down. Thankfully, his offensive line assured that it would be the last play call Dallas needed to escape on the road with their eighth straight win.
@EzekielElliott doesn't even have the football yet, but find me a Steelers defender in a good position to make a play.
The Steelers defensive front was absolutely absorbed on this play, as Travis Frederick came through with his signature reach block on the one technique defensive tackle. Next to him at left guard, Ronald Leary drove his man to the ground, leaving only a desperate Anthony Chickillo - who was faced with the impossible task of trying to slide into the gap and beat Tyron Smith - in the way of Ezekiel Elliott.
If you want to be able to sleep anytime soon, DO NOT press play: pic.twitter.com/haV4vsHhws
— ✭ Sean Martin ✭ (@ShoreSportsNJ) November 15, 2016
Zeke scored, the Cowboys won, and our amazing rookies found yet another way to amaze us on this journey that has been the 2016 season through 10 weeks.
Ezekiel Elliott is truly something special. The Cowboys offensive line is in their prime, now getting the golden opportunity to block for a youthful back that is simply just getting started - leading the league in rushing at 21 years old.
Elliott has been so good, that he's essentially forced the Cowboys to keep arguably their greatest QB of all time in Tony Romo on the bench, because the connection he has going with Dak Prescott is just that good.
I don't know if I'll be able to sleep for a long time tonight after taking a closer look at this film, but when I finally do, I'll rest easy knowing that the 8-1 Cowboys will feature Ezekiel Elliott in their backfield for a long, long time.
What did you see on Ezekiel Elliott's two touchdowns against the Steelers? Leave a comment below the article to discuss, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com!
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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