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Safe to Say Ezekiel Elliott is More than his Offensive Line

John Williams

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Safe to Say, Ezekiel Elliott Not an Offensive Line Product

When people consider the best running backs in the NFL, typically they talk about Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley, or even David Johnson, but outside of Dallas it seems like Ezekiel Elliott rarely gets discussed in the best running back in the NFL conversation.

We’ve all heard the narrative.

“Zeke is just a product of the offensive line.”

Well, I think we can put that one to bed.

Against a really good Washington Redskins defensive line, the Dallas Cowboys started Cameron Fleming, Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Joe Looney along the offensive line with projected starters Zack Martin and La'el Collins. With three backup offensive linemen in the game, Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball 26 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Even with the Cowboys running out a backup offensive line in every game this season, two backups in the last three games, and three backup offensive linemen on Thanksgiving Day, Ezekiel Elliott now leads the NFL in rushing yards through 11 games. With 11 games played each, Elliott and Todd Gurley are the only players in the NFL with more than 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Elliott has a 31 yard lead on the Los Angeles Rams running back. 

Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and nearly had 1,000 yards rushing in 2017 despite missing six games due to suspension. In 2018, Elliott is again have a tremendous season. With two or more backup offensive linemen in the game each of the last three weeks, he's run for more than 120 yards in each game. That’s the second time in his career that he’s ran for 120 in three straight games. Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett each have only one stretch in which they ran for more than 120 in three straight games. 

Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in yards after contact with nearly 700 rushing yards, which would be the ninth highest rushing yardage total in the league this year. Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt are the only other players in the NFL with more than 600 yards after contact. Elliott is second in the NFL to Gurley in first downs on the ground, but leads the NFL in rushes for more than 10 yards.

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Ezekiel Elliott has: * 6 games with 100+ rush yards this season (Most in NFL) * 11 games with 100+ rush yards since 2017 (T-Most in NFL, Todd Gurley) * 18 games with 100+ rush yards since 2016 (Most in NFL) #DallasCowboys⁠ ⁠

When you consider that Ezekiel Elliott sat out the week 17 game vs the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 and sat out the six to suspension in 2017, he's played in 36 games. That's a 100 yard rushing game every other week. Todd Gurley has played in 42 games since 2016 and only has rushed for 100 yards only 11 times.

We've heard for more than two years now that Ezekiel Elliott is the product of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. To their credit, they were great in 2016, pretty good in 2017, and have been good in 2018, but what this season highlights is that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best in the NFL.

This isn't to take away from the play that the backup offensive lineman have provided, because they've been serviceable to good, but what we're seeing is why Ezekiel Elliott was drafted as the fourth overall pick in 2016. He's an elite player who is able to make those around him better. He makes a great offensive line elite and makes a good offensive line great.

It's time to have the conversation about Ezekiel Elliott as the best running back in the NFL. Todd Gurley is great in his own right, but he's also had the benefit of a better passing game over the last couple of years than Elliott has had and yet, Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing. I don't know a fan that follows the NFL that would rather have the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff over Sean McVay and his staff in Los Angeles. Despite what is perceived to be a poor coaching staff by many pundits, Elliott is leading the league.

So with backup offensive lineman, an average passing game, and an average coaching staff, Ezekiel Elliott is on a roll and doesn't look like he'll be slowing down any time soon. What might have been a foregone conclusion with Gurley running away with the rushing title, may now be a heated race down the stretch. Whether Elliott wins his second rushing title in three years or not, I think it's safe to say that we can put the "Elliott is a product of the offensive line" narrative to bed.

If there's a positive that can be taken away from the health issues along the offensive line, it's that Elliott is not a product of the offensive line and he never has been. If anything, he's an offensive line enhancer.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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3 Comments
  • oneputter

    with dallas its always about the sum of the parts rather than giving any credit to the individual player.

    back with emmitt, it was the OL, with troy it was the system and / or OL. well it takes 11 / 22 to make players great.

    gurley can’t do it alone, neither can bell…..

    i think zeke is just as good, and imo (biased of course) zeke is the #1 back in the NFL.

    • John Williams

      I guess, mostly what I’m saying is that Zeke needs to be in the conversation. The reason he hasn’t been is because people wanted to say he was a product of the OL, and what we’re seeing is that that is not the case.

  • XaqFields

    Great article. If not now, when? Todd Gurley is the only other back in the league I think is worth putting next to Zeke, and from my perspective it’s hard to look at their body of work and say that Gurley is the superior back.

    Gurley was once in a below-average passing offense with subpar coaching, too. That was back in 2016 and he had 885 yards in 16 games that year with an average of 3.2 yards per carry. His boost in performance has coincided with Jared Goff developing into one of the league’s top passers with the guidance of Sean McVay.

    I’m not taking anything away from Gurley here, but I do think it’s noteworthy that when he wasn’t in an elite offense, he also wasn’t an elite runningback. Conversely, Zeke has been elite regardless of what’s going on around him.

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Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense

John Williams

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Maliek Collins

For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.

Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.

He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.

During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.

Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.

With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.

Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.



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Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018

Jess Haynie

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Amari Cooper

For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.

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After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote

As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.

Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.

Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!



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David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?

Sean Martin

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David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.

In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.

There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.

While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.

Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.

Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.

In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.

Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.

Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.

At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.

The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.

Tell us what you think about "David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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