Who else is sick of the running backs argument?
As soon as the Dallas Cowboys decided to extend running back Ezekiel Elliott earlier this week, Twitter went crazy with instant reaction. While the majority of Cowboys Nation seemed excited to have their All Pro level talent back on the field for the season opener, the majority of outside analysts disagreed with the Cowboys' decision.
Running backs don't matter.
It's become the tagline for the analytics crowd in recent years, so much so that's its become overblown.
The numbers suggest that early down passes, not runs, are the most efficient play-calls by expected points added. They also suggest that the difference between a running back who's considered "elite" by the masses, and one that's considered replacement level, is not all that big. Not big enough to justify $50 million guaranteed, that's for sure.
But the Cowboys, and their fans, have decided that this situation is different. That, in Dallas, the running back does matter. And he matters a lot.
The Cowboys have built their offense around their running game. For years they have made the decision to run on early downs, be conservative in their third and fourth down play-calling, and invest resources in their offensive line.
Head coach Jason Garrett is a football guy at heart, and while there are a ton of smart analytically minded people in the building, time of possession and hard-nosed football has been the priority in Dallas since the 2014 season.
And when you look at the win-loss record, why shouldn't it be, right?
While it's certainly true the Cowboys are built on the back of their running game, it's not true that this all centers around their running back. Instead, the offensive line is the backbone of this football team, as has been proved year in and year out.
After extending right tackle La'el Collins earlier this week, Dallas now has long term contracts invested in four of their five starting offensive linemen. In addition, they've used a top 50 pick on their starting left guard who will almost certainly earn himself a longterm contract in the next couple years. Oh, and they used a third round pick in 2019 on guard Connor McGovern to be their insurance plan on the interior line.
The Cowboys carried 11 (!!) offensive linemen on the 53-man roster after training camp cuts, and have done all they can to make sure that Dak Prescott is protected and Ezekiel Elliott has clear running lanes. Now, I am not inferring that any old running back can do what Zeke does with this offensive line. What I am saying is that when you have so much invested in those front five, it could be a mis-allocation of resources to also guarantee a running back $50 million.
Dallas' front office has exhibited time and time again that they don't want to be up against the cap. They want flexibility year to year, as they likely should. In order to keep this flexibility, they may lose out on some of their defensive free agents - namely Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, and Byron Jones - in order to keep their offensive core together.
They can afford to keep players like Byron Jones around with Elliott, but it's unlikely they are going to do so.
Ezekiel Elliott is valuable, though. He's valuable in the locker room as a leader on offense. He's valuable on Sundays as another weapon the defense has to account for. And, yet, analytics departments would tell you that they might be better off rolling into the future with a cheaper Tony Pollard. Because the question isn't whether or not Zeke is "good," it's whether or not Zeke being good actually makes your offense better enough to justify the guaranteed money.
At the end of the day, the Cowboys' decision makers seem to have different roster values than analytics Twitter. And, hey, they've done a really good job so far, making it easy to trust them.
If Ezekiel Elliott plays as he has and the Cowboys ride their offensive line and running game to a Super Bowl, no one will care about potential dead money, or his cap hit in 2023.
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott Primed for Big Games vs Lions
The Dallas Cowboys were brought back down to earth this past Sunday in their 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. After dominating the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys got manhandled in the trenches on both offense and defense. Running Back Dalvin Cook had 183 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) due to his offensive line opening holes bigger than the state of Texas. All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott, however, was held to just 47 yards on 20 carries because his offensive line got bullied from start to finish.
This coming Sunday, the Cowboys will be looking to bounce back against the Detroit Lions and maintain their position atop the NFC East. The Lions defense is one of the worst in the league vs the run and pass which sets up the Cowboys two biggest offensive stars, Dak Prescott and Elliott to have huge games.
Prescott is currently second in the NFL in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns, and first in QBR. He will get every opportunity to improve on those numbers this Sunday going up against Detroit's 28th ranked passing defense. They've allowed four quarterbacks to pass for over 300 yards, Prescott has three games with such production himself in 2019.
He will be bringing with him a very explosive receiving core. Amari Cooper is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards with 848. He's coming off a game in which he had his second-highest yardage total (147) and tied his highest reception total (11) in any game this season. Michael Gallup has already equaled his reception total and surpassed both his yardage and touchdown totals from his rookie season in 2018. Randall Cobb had his best game by far as a Cowboy with six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown vs the Vikings.
With Prescott playing at a high level, his receiving core more together than ever, and facing the leagues 30th ranked defense I smell another big game for number 4.
Elliott had his second-worst game of the season vs the Vikings after three consecutive 100-yard performances. The chances of him bouncing back in this game are very high considering the Lions rank 26th vs the run. Seven of the nine teams the Lions have faced have rushed for over 100 yards, including three individual performances over the century mark.
The two-time rushing champion is tied for the second-most games over 100 yards this season with five, trailing only Carolina's Christian McCaffrey who has six. Also, the Cowboys offensive line will be looking to bounce back themselves after the Vikings defensive front took them to the woodshed this past Sunday. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Elliott has one of his biggest performances of the season after such a pedestrian outing last week. Also, having a motivated offensive line blocking for him doesn't hurt either.
The Cowboy's best formula for success is still establishing Elliott early to set up Prescott and the play-action passing game.
With the NFC East still firmly up for grabs, the Cowboys have minimal room for error for this rest of the season. Going up against a defense this bad could be just what the doctor ordered for Prescott and Elliott to dominate on the road. If this were to come to pass, the Cowboys chances at improving to 6-4 this Sunday will be extremely high.
Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?
Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.
In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.
Does this make him a liability in the red zone?
I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.
If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.
I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.
As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.
I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.
Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?
Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings
It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.
On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.
In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.
Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.
Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.
With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.
Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.
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