Ezekiel Elliott and the running game
Running game: Over the last half-decade, no matter how well or badly the Cowboys played in other facets of the game, they could always count on their running game. Not so this year. Ezekiel Elliott ran for over 100 yards in only seven games, and was held below 50 yards four times.
Many observers think Elliott isn’t the player he’s been, and that’s hard to argue with, given his stats this year. Heck, this is the guy who led the league in rushing two out of the last three years. He certainly didn’t this year.
For the record, Elliott is still the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, according to ESPN. But he hasn’t looked as explosive, as fast, and he hasn’t had as many big gains as in prior years.
But though Elliott appears to be slowing, it’s also true that in many games, the offensive line was not its old dominant self. In tough games against strong defenses, they weren’t getting much of a push-off, and weren’t blowing holes in the line for Elliot to run through.
Part of this was injuries and recoveries by various linemen throughout the year. But for my money, the biggest problem was Connor Williams. Though better than last year, Williams still looked like an offensive tackle trying to play guard.
Though his technique is excellent, he just wasn’t stronger than his opponent in lots of matchups. It also looked like the whole line played worse with Williams in there. Once Williams was out with an injury, the line looked much stronger with Xavier Su’a-Filo and Joe Looney in at left guard.
After two years of seeing this, I’m ready to call the experiment over. If I were making the decisions next year, I would move Williams to backup tackle and give Looney, Su’a-Filo and Connor McGovern all a chance to compete for starting left guard next year (assuming they’re all still on the team).
This doesn’t have to be bad for Williams. I truly believe that he could be an excellent tackle, where his agility and athleticism will help much more, and his strength will be less of an issue.
He also has plenty of experience, having played tackle at the University of Texas. And given Tyron Smith’s injury history, Williams would definitely get chances to play.
Tony Pollard – I can’t leave the running game without crowing a little bit about the great play of Pollard. He’s been great all season, and rushed for over 100 yards twice, despite playing backup.
Plus, he averaged 5.3 yards per run. That’s excellent for any running back, but crazy good for a backup. And to think the Cowboys picked up Pollard in the fourth round. Best pick of the 2019 draft, easily.