Ezekiel Elliott received a big payday last year. Now both Zeke and the Dallas Cowboys offensive line must step up in 2020 against stout run defenses.
America’s Team has struggled versus opponents that finish top-10 in run defense for a given season. The Cowboys are 7-9 against such teams in games which Elliott has played since 2017.
Against defenses that finish outside the top-10 in run defense, they are 17-9 with Elliott in the backfield. That’s created a false narrative that Zeke is overrated and can’t get the job done against top-tier defenses. This isn’t the case at all and, in my opinion, more blame lies on the playcalling and offensive line.
The attitude of the Cowboys offense the past three seasons was to shy away from the run game versus stout defenses. That is a coaching staff that was skeptical of their offensive line play. But it was eventually the factor that decides if the team is able to make the playoffs the past two seasons.
In 2019, there were seven games in which the opposing team was top-10 in run defense. Elliott averaged 76.6 yards on the ground and the Cowboys went 1-6.
In 2018, there were six games in which the opposing team was top-10 in run defense. Elliott averaged 105.3 yards on the ground and the Cowboys went 4-2. That was the difference between playoffs and watching the Philadelphia Eagles in January.
Who has more pressure on them in 2020? The offensive line or Elliott? It is an easy answer. They both need to step up their play versus the defenses that require a great effort to get the ground game pounding.
Most fans of America’s Team would agree that the offense is at its absolute best when the run game leads to play-action, eventually leading to chunk plays in the passing game. The offense is a shell of itself when it has to face stacked boxes on 1st and 10 plays and the play call is a dive. The playcalling has to be more favorable on early downs.
Balance is preached around the league, it is an arguable point that the concept applies to the Cowboys the most of any NFL team. When there’s space and the offensive line can get to the second level, there are few defenses that have an answer for Big D.
Elliott comes into 2020 with a new running backs coach in Skip Peete. The offensive line will have a new attitude under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Joe Philbin. How will those changes impact the run game this upcoming season?
Who needs to step-up more, Ezekiel Elliott or the offensive line? Both do. And that starts with attitude and trust that they can get the job done versus top defenses. The talent is most definitely there, as it has been for the past four seasons. The results must follow.