Last year, Cowboys fans hoped to see Ezekiel Elliott break the record for rushing yards in a rookie season. Though Zeke fell 177 yards short of that goal, his 1,631 yards still made for a fabulous debut and have set expectations high or 2017.
With talk from Cowboys coaches that Elliott should get the ball more in his second year, you have to wonder what other records he might be able to chase. We're going to look at four areas where Zeke is most likely to threaten: rushing yards, combined yards, touchdowns, and total touches.
Elliott would need to add 475 yards to last year's 1,631 to break the single-season record. Since 1984, Eric Dickerson's mark of 2,105 yards has been flirted with but remains atop the list. After the record has stood 32 NFL seasons, with the game changing over that time, is it reasonable to think that Elliott could have a shot at the record.
Obviously, all of our discussion today is based on the assumption Elliott plays in all 16 games. Last year, he only played in 15 due to sitting out of the Cowboys' meaningless Week 17 finale. That extra game would be an immediate boost of hopefully 100-150 yards to Zeke's rushing total; a big chunk of that 475 he needs to catch Dickerson.
Next, consider that Elliott got off to a slow start. His first game was easily his worst, getting just 51 yards on a 2.6 average against the New York Giants. Zeke never had less than 80 yards the rest of the year and more than doubled his production in the second meeting with the Giants.
it's a safe bet that Zeke's increased touches and experience will result in improved production. Let's say he gets 125 yards in that 16th game, cutting the margin down to just 350 yards to break Dickerson's record. If you divide that over the remaining 15 games, it's just 23.33 yards per game. If last year's average of 5.1 yards-per-carry holds, that's just 4-5 more carries each week.
Naturally, if Zeke's rushing yards go up then you have to wonder what that means for his total yardage. Last year Zeke had 363 receiving yards on 32 catches, which gave him a total of 1,994 yards from scrimmage. The record belongs to Chris Johnson, who had 2,509 combined yards in 2009.
We just discussed how Zeke could reasonably add 475 yards to his rushing total. That alone would bring him just 41 yards away from Johnson's record. Obviously, Zeke wouldn't need to do much more in the passing game to close the gap. He might even get that in a single catch.
What this shows is that even if Elliott can't break Dickerson's rushing record, his increased workload could easily give him a shot at having the most combined yards in NFL history. The 516 extra yards he needs to catch Johnson may come from more of a mix of carries and catches, putting one record out of reach but another very much in his range.
This is one spot where the change in NFL offenses could especially hurt Zeke. Elliott had 15 rushing touchdowns and one as a receiver last season. The records for both rushing and combined touchdowns came from LaDainian Tomlinson's amazing 2006 season, where he had 31 total trips to the endzone (28 rushing, 3 receiving).
Zeke would need to double his touchdowns from last season to break Tomlinson's record. That's essentially two touchdowns in each game, which any fantasy player will tell you doesn't come often.
Despite having the offensive framework to punish teams with redzone rushing, the Cowboys like to use their receiving targets close to the goal line. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley can all make plays in short yardage. Dak Prescott can also run it in himself, which further cuts into Elliott's opportunities.
it's certainly not impossible for Zeke to get two touchdowns a game. If he becomes more of an offensive focal point, as we discussed earlier, those extra touches should lead to more trips to the endzone. It would have to be a fairly dramatic shift, though, for him to double last year's numbers.
We end on this one because it could wind up having consequences. There is a price for increasing a player's workload; increased wear-and-tear and chances for injury that might impact the 2017 season or Elliott's long-term value.
Last year Zeke had 322 carries and 32 catches in 15 games. The record is an astonishing 492 total touches by RB James Wilder in 1984, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elliott would need 139 more touches in 2017 to break that record.
You may look at that number and think there's no way Zeke could get it, but break it down by each game. The margin is about 8.6 touches per week, which isn't that unreasonable for a player getting an increased workload.
Given the modern understanding of sports medicine and philosophies about resting players, I don't expect Elliott to touch Wilder's record. However, this clearly demonstrates that he wouldn't be too far off if he gets a significant increase in touches. While this may lead to all of the glorious achievements we've considered, it could also lead to future problems.
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Ezekiel Elliott has as good an opportunity to put his name in the record books as any NFL running back has had. Hopefully, improved production will come more from getting better yardage on each touch than having to get more touches. This will not only be better for his long-term health but result in more efficiency and excitement from the Cowboys offense.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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