Cowboys running game shows life after slow start to season

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Adam Hunger/AP/Shutterstock (13422432cu) Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) tries to avoid a tackle by New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the second quarter of an NFL football game, in East Rutherford, N.J Cowboys Giants Football, East Rutherford, United States – 26 Sep 2022

Cowboys running game shows life after slow start to season

It took until Week 3 of the season for the Cowboys’ running game to get out of the starter blocks.

After the first two weeks of the season, the two-headed attack of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard had amassed 156 yards on 40 carries for a paltry 3.9-yard per carry average. Elliott had just 105 yards on 25 carries, while Pollard had 51 yards on 15 carries against two of the better defenses in the NFL in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.

However, for the Cowboys’ offense to really be successful over the 17-game season, the running game must get going.

So offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and head coach Mike McCarthy continued to emphasize the running game, which paid off in the Cowboys’ Week 3 win over the New York Giants.

“We are getting there,” McCarthy said. “We are getting close to where we want to be. Obviously, we would like to have some more point production. … If you look at the three games we have played in, we are definitely trending the right way. At the end of the day, it is about ball distribution and being in schemes that guys can … get off the ball and go get ‘em. We are doing a much better job at that.”

Once the team’s strength, the running game has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past few seasons.

The Cowboys were riding high on the running game back in 2019 when Pollard came on board as a rookie.

Behind an offensive line that featured two future Hall of Famers in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, an All-Pro in Travis Fredrick, as well as Connor Williams and La’el Collins.

Behind that group, the Cowboys grinded out 2,153 yards on the ground, led by 1,357 yards from Elliott and 455 yards from Pollard.

The running game took a turn downward in the 2020 season. After Fredrick abruptly retired, the Cowboys added rookie Tyler Biadasz and journeyman Joe Looney to replace the all-pro center in the middle of the line, and the ground attack suffered.

The Cowboys rushed for just 1,788 yards in the 16 games, with Elliott again leading the way with 979 yards and Pollard following his lead with 435 yards.

The roller coaster started back up last season, as Elliott crossed the 1,000-yard plateau for the fourth time in his 7-year career with 1,002 yards.

Biadasz took the starting center’s job, and with the other four starters remaining the same, the Cowboys running game began to show out again.

That was until Elliott got hurt in a Week 5 collision with the pylon camera.

Elliott would not miss any time but would also not be the same back the rest of the season.

The Cowboys finished with 2,104 yards rushing, while Elliott chipped in with 452 yards before the injury and 550 yards in the 12 games after it. In those final dozen games, Elliott’s 87 yards against Philadelphia in the regular season finale was his high mark.

Pollard picked up the slack, finishing with a career-high in carries with 130 and yards with 719.

Now the Cowboys have a healthy Elliott again, paired with a dangerous Pollard, which should give the Cowboys the punch they need from the running game.

Add that to the insertion of nine-time all-pro lineman Jason Peters at left guard against the Giants, and the running game started to show the consistency and home-run power that the team needs going forward.

“For the running game, time on task is huge,” Moore said. “So, certainly for the o-line spending more and more time together, being together. … Those guys have certainly grown more comfortable with it.”

But with just 52 yards against Tampa Bay to open the season, 53 yards in Week 2 against Cincinnati, and 81 yards against the Giants in Week 3, it has now been 15 straight games since Elliott rushed for 100 yards.

But with Pollard (105 yards) surpassing Elliott in rushing yards in the win over the Giants, the Cowboys have a true 1-2 punch in the running game.

Something they will continue to lean on as the season as the games become more meaningful, starting this week with the Commanders.

“In general, as the season progresses, usually run games get a little bit better as they go,” Moore said. “Our guys have (done) a nice job of finding their groove, and certainly that is something we want to utilize. … It is certainly a big piece of us.”

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