Dallas Cowboys need Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to get healthy

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) attempts to run away from Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) and free safety Xavier Woods (23)(Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) attempts to run away from Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) and free safety Xavier Woods (23)(Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports) /

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about how reinforcements are starting to arrive for the Dallas Cowboys. As they seek to clinch their first playoff berth since 2018, it’s true the Cowboys are getting many of their stars back, particularly on defense.

However, at the same time, two of Dallas’ biggest offensive weapons are dealing with injuries that are cause for concern and need to be managed accordingly.

It’s late in the season and nearly every player on every roster is banged up. However, Ezekiel Elliott’s knee injury and Tony Pollard’s torn plantar fascia are concerning, to put it mildly.

This holiday season, the biggest gift the Dallas Cowboys could receive would be to have all their offensive weapons healthy and ready to make a deep playoff push.

The Dallas Cowboys need Ezekiel Elliott healthy for the playoffs

Of all the strange moves the Cowboys have made this season (and there have been a few), one of the most puzzling has been their use of Ezekiel Elliott in the wake of his knee injury. Elliott was in the midst of a resurgent season prior to the injury, but he hasn’t looked close to being the same player since then and Dallas has failed to adjust.

It’s clear that Ezekiel Elliott wants to be out on the field for every snap. His leadership and determination are on display week in and week out. That said, he’s also a liability right now.

Elliott has said that his knee can’t get worse by playing on it, but it’s common sense that knee injuries and running backs are never a good pair. The Cowboys would be wise to reduce his touches, a stat where he ranks seventh in football, and get him some rest.

The injury has had a clear impact on his production. He hasn’t topped 45 rushing yards in any game since he had 51 back in Week 9. Following the Cowboys’ Week 6 matchup with the New England Patriots, he’s failed to average four yards per attempt in any game and has been averaging a paltry 3.06 overall.

Forget about the analytics and traditional stats for a moment. Elliott doesn’t even pass the eye test. Zeke looks slow and banged up right now.

At the same time, the Cowboys have been playing musical chairs with their offensive linemen, trying to find the right combination of players to block up front together. The problem with that is that it just hasn’t worked.

The Cowboys have been subbing linemen in and out at roughly the same pace that a Fast and the Furious movie runs at, and they are getting their running backs killed in the process. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be something that will change in the near future.

Even with his production clearly hampered, he’s still put up raw numbers that once again rank him among the best backs in football. His 765 rushing yards still rank eighth in football and his eight touchdowns are tied for sixth.

Tony Pollard has been very productive for the Dallas Cowboys

Tony Pollard, on the other hand, has by and large been the Dallas Cowboys’ most explosive running back for the better part of two seasons now. He’s also thrived in an expanded role this year.

Pollard’s 5.6 yards per attempt tie him with Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts for third amongst all running backs. Meanwhile, his 116 rushing yards over expected are fourth-most in football according to next-gen stats. His 88.8 PFF grade is third among running backs.

While Elliott hasn’t had more than 15 carries since Week 8, he’s still led the Dallas Cowboys in carries in all but one game. Despite that, Pollard has managed to gain more rushing yards than Elliott in each of Dallas’ previous four games.

He’s been more productive than the clearly injured Elliott on a weekly basis, yet the Cowboys have failed to get him more involved in the offense. In the process, the offense has taken a step back in recent weeks.

Pollard’s health is a concern right now too, though. Just last week, he tore his plantar fascia and will be a game-time decision against Washington.

The blueprint for a Dallas Cowboys win…

The Dallas Cowboys have lost three of their last five games. Over the same stretch, the second-place Washington Football Team has gone 4-1 and sits just two games behind them.  It’s not hyperbolic to say that Dallas is heading into a critical stretch of their schedule.

The Cowboys matchup with Washington could be coming at precisely the right time, though, and the blueprint to carve out a victory could play right to Dallas’ advantage.

Washington’s defense has allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL and ranks 28th in passing yards and 27th in passing first downs. At the same time, their rushing defense has allowed just nine touchdowns on the ground all season and third-least rushing yards in the league.

The recipe for success is clear here: throw the football. This could be a unique chance for the Cowboys to craft a game plan that allows them to exploit Washington’s clear weakness, while also reducing Elliott and Pollard’s workloads to get them healthier.

You can pull all the stats that you want, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that for the Dallas Cowboys offense to be at its best in the postseason, they need Pollard and Elliott. Getting them healthy needs to be a priority.