Midseason form eludes Cowboys’ ground attack

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (12763357o) Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Arlington, Texas 49ers Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 16 Jan 2022

Midseason form eludes Cowboys’ ground attack

On the back of a two-pronged running attack led by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys made it clear early on that, offensively, they are a team built through the running game.

They have lived that every week, putting up just under 140 yards per game on 28.5 totes per contest.

“Like anything, you have an identity that you want to play to,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think our complimentary form was pretty crystal clear in how we want to play. With that, is the way the defense plays (and) creates potential opportunities for you to try and take advantage of. So, at the end of the day, staying north of 30 rushes is a benefit, regardless of the yards per carry.”

In a season that will be looked at in two separate segments – with and without quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have been consistent in their attack.

Prescott was hurt in the Cowboys’ opener against Tampa Bay, then missed the next five games with an injured thumb on his throwing hand.

During that five-game stretch, the Cowboys averaged 4.37 yards per carry while going 4-1 with Cooper Rush at quarterback.

Prescott returned in Week 7, and in the 10 games with him back under center, the team has averaged 4.51 yards per carry while going 8-2.

However, over that 10-game span, the team’s rushing efficiency has clearly taken a dip in production.

“Certainly, when you look at a big picture when you do have the run game going, can you get movement and play action off it,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore asked. “But it’s really really important for us, (the) ball distribution – just giving our guys opportunities and touches. When you have two running backs like us, obviously, it correlates to the run game as well.”

In the first six games after Prescott returned from injury, the Cowboys averaged 5.15 yards per carry, including averaging nearly 7 yards per carry in wins over Chicago and Indianapolis. They rode the running game to a 5-1 record in that stretch while scoring just over 37 points per game.

In the last four games, the running game has dipped in production to averaging just 3.56 yards per carry, including the second-lowest production day of the season with 2.71 yards a run against Tennessee.

“Certainly, for us, we value the running game,” Moore said. “We have two tremendous running backs for our specific situation. We want those guys to have opportunities to catch the ball, run the ball. … So, certainly, the run game is the best way to get those guys the opportunities. I think that is really, really important for us.”

“We have to take a look at the run game and get it back going for the playoffs,” Elliott added.

Led by Elliott (866 yards on 223 carries) and Pollard (988 yards on 186 carries), the team has put up 2,234 yards on 504 carries for a 4.43 yards per rush average.

It’s the most yards gained from scrimmage since the Cowboys put up 2,396 in 2016 when Elliott led the way with 1,631 yards and no other runner reached 300 yards total for the season.

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