The Dallas Cowboys will enter tonight’s must-win matchup against the New Orleans Saints desperately looking to snap their two-game losing streak and reassert themselves as serious Super Bowl contenders. But this will be no easy feat. A COVID-19 outbreak within the organization earlier this week has rocked the Cowboys, leaving them to take on the Saints on Thursday night without four coaches—one of them being head coach Mike McCarthy—as well as right tackle Terence Steele. Despite needing all the help that they can get, are the Cowboys making the right call playing an injured Ezekiel Elliott?
It is a tough decision, but I am not so sure that it is smart.
There is no question about it, the superstar running back is the lifeline of the Cowboys explosive run game. The three-time Pro Bowl selection is a fierce competitor and a force to be reckoned with. Elliott led the league in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016 and then again in 2018. So far, the 26-year-old OSU alum accounts for 720 rushing yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns this season. The success that Dallas has found in the run game, coupled alongside quarterback Dak Prescott’s unmatched passing game, is what has allowed the Cowboys to have such a dynamic offense, or had.
In the Oct. 3 win against the Carolina Panthers, Elliott suffered an injury to his right knee. Call it a bone bruise, a fracture, whatever you think, but at the end of the day, the injury has lingered through the past four weeks and significantly hindered Elliott’s ability to perform. Thus, an underperforming Elliott translates to a struggling Dallas run game.
To combat his injury, Elliott has only played 160 of 280 snaps (58.6%) in the past four games, a substantial decrease from playing 379 of 451 snaps (84%) in the first seven games of the season. In the past four games, Elliott has been unable to surpass 51 yards, marking the lowest output of his six-year career in the NFL. Most recently, in the demoralizing overtime 36-33 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, Elliott only ran for 25 yards on nine carries. As a result, Dallas has rushed for fewer than 100 yards in four of their last five games and have lost three of their last four, moving their record to 7-4.
The previously 6-1 Cowboys led the NFC East with a 3.5-game lead. As Week 13 approaches, the Cowboys’ lead has dropped by a full game. The team will face a difficult remainder of the season, with four of their final six games being played on the road. With arguably the toughest portion of their season on the horizon, it would be smart to rest Elliott and give his body time to rest and recover. In the meantime, the Cowboys can count on their second running back, Tony Pollard, to pick up the slack. Pollard is a solid back with 531 yards on his 100 carries so far.
If the Cowboys are looking in terms of the long run and a Super Bowl push this season, it would be in their best interest to rest Elliott. Having a healthy, rested Elliott later on this season will benefit the Cowboys tremendously.