Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott making up for 2020 and then some with dominant performances during winning streak


Ezekiel Elliott is running away from all opposition in 2021, but what he isn’t running from is accountability. The two-time NFL rushing champ invoked a highly intense and strict conditioning regimen this past offseason, one that led to quarterback Dak Prescott describing Elliott in June as being in “the best shape of his life,” and Elliott himself warning he’s “quicker” and having “a lot to prove” this season. After a slow start in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which was by design, as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore held him to just 11 carries in the absence of perennial All-Pro right guard Zack Martin and in the face of the league’s best run defense — Elliott has been on a tear during the Cowboys’ four-game win streak.

Elliott has amassed 468 yards from scrimmage with six touchdowns in his last four games combined. Even stacked boxes aren’t stopping him, as defenders struggle to take him down once they have a chance to do so. Those concerned about his alleged lack of burst have also seen those worries put to bed, and without a night light, as the three-time Pro Bowler has readily put his quickness and speed on display with big gains and shifty jukes, and it’s all a nod to Elliott’s offseason motivation to make a statement that he’s still one of the best halfbacks in all of football.

He went back into the lab and refashioned himself as an apparent cyborg.

“I’d say this year a lot of it was about my body,” Elliott said Wednesday, three days after helping bury the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium in Week 5. “A lot of it was just making sure I was ready to come in and make up for my s–t show last year.”

As brutally honest of a self-criticism as you’ll hear, Elliott is referring to a season that saw him rush for a career-low 979 yards with six touchdowns in 15 games played. He also finished with six fumbles — tying with his 2018 campaign for a career-worst in that category. 

“Just having the year I had last year, you don’t need more motivation than that,” Elliott said in July from training camp. “I just know the type of player I am. I don’t think I showed that last year. I got a lot to prove. I just made sure I didn’t leave any doubt out there that I didn’t do as much as I needed to do. 

“I do it for my teammates. I think the hardest part about last year is you feel like you let your teammates down. That hurts. I want to make sure I put my best step forward and do everything I need to do to help this team win.”

Elliott is doing all of the above, having not fumbled in his first 94 touches through Week 5 and ranking third in the league in rushing, behind only reigning rushing champ Derrick Henry and Cleveland Browns dynamo Nick Chubb — although besting Chubb in runs that result in a first down with 25. The added benefit for the Cowboys is in how the resurgence of the run game hasn’t only kept opposing defenses off-balance with Prescott operating with surgical precision in the passing game, but in the fact that Elliott isn’t the only halfback defenses have to try to stop on a weekly basis.

Tony Pollard, the resident lightning to Elliott’s thunder, is also on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season and has been a lethal complement to what the latter does; adding credence to Elliott’s promise made in September that “everybody can eat” in the prolific Cowboys offense. The tandem keeps Elliott fresh late in games, and the hammering by Elliott forces defenses into a particular mindset that doesn’t apply when Pollard touches the ball.

It’s paying off like gangbusters, with the Cowboys having already rushed for 864 yards through five games.

Arguably the best one-two punch at halfback in the NFL, right up there with Chubb and Kareem Hunt (as one example), the question now is what nickname have Elliott and Pollard come up with for their tag team group?

“We started but we ain’t get very far,” said Elliott. “I told him I’d get on it. So hopefully I’ll try to have it for you guys after the bye week.”

First-world problems, surely, for a team sitting atop its division with a 4-1 record and operating at full throttle on both sides of the ball — the defense finally matching serve in a big way, led by the historic run of interceptions by Trevon Diggs that even a severe bout with pink eye hasn’t halted. Hell, Diggs is even lobbying to have some fun on the offensive side of the ball with Prescott and Elliott, but he likely won’t be allowed to take his fork to that side of the table anytime soon. The Cowboys are more than set on offense, soon to regain Michael Gallup as well from injured reserve, and the focus is now on how to keep the good times rolling against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in Week 6.

That will require a healthy Elliott, who went down hard after a big gainer against the Giants, falling onto a plastic pylon that contains a league camera. After writhing in pain while grabbing his back, Elliott was helped up by trainers and to the sideline with a noticeable limp. It didn’t last long, however, because he’d return to the game and high-step into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 24-13 lead late in the third quarter.

Elliott hasn’t had any residual effects from the fall outside of soreness, though.

“Just [treating it with] ice, stim [device], and heat,” he said. “Best thing is heat, just kind of loosen those muscles up around where I landed on [the pylon]. But I mean what’s been working the best is, yes, heat. So from here until next week, I’ll be in the hot tub. I might be a prune by the time we get to New England.”

The Patriots are sure hoping there isn’t any juice in that plum this week, and they’ll try to find the weaknesses in the Cowboys offensive line — i.e., a currently struggling center in Tyler Biadasz — with the hopes of limiting Elliott. But despite Biadasz’s issues and the absence of starting right tackle La’el Collins, who’ll return to practice next week after serving the final game of his five-game suspension that was not overturned in federal court, Elliott is rightfully also giving a ton of credit for the success of the running game to those opening the lanes for him and to the threat the passing game presents.

“One — the O-line, they’re mauling guys up front,” he said. “You got the receivers mauling [defensive backs], too. Everyone is all in, doing their part and we’re reaping the benefits.”

Considering Elliott is averaging 5.66 yards per carry and has 170 combined rushing yards after contact over his last three games, there’s also a good bit of his success that stems from his ability to run through would-be tacklers, something that’s often been a staple of his running style. It’s a lethal combination of brutality and finesse, interchangeable at any given moment.

“It’s tough on defenses,” Elliott noted. “Because we might not be running the same runs, but we read them a little bit different, we fit them a little bit different and they get used to seeing one of us on a slash or a wide zone run. And then, the other ones, we’re hitting it a little bit different. It’s hard for them to kinda get into, not comfortable, but they get used to one running style and the next thing you know the next guy coming in.”

The team is off to a special start in large part because of a rejuvenated Elliott and other usual suspects, but also a round of unusual suspects who have hit the ground running after joining the Cowboys this offseason — be it in free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft. With so many new faces in the locker room, there’s more onus on elder statesmen like Elliott to lead by example.

“I just think, every year, you gotta develop as a player, as a person, as a leader, as a teammate, as a boyfriend, brother, everything,” he said. “You got to get better. If I’m just staying the same from last year, I’m not doing my job.”

Excited for the new Cowboys season? We are too! Follow along on the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from Patrik Walker, who’s on the ground in Dallas. Plus, get the latest Dak Prescott news, Ezekiel Elliott predictions, and much more from our team of experts. If you already have the app, you need to set the Cowboys as your favorite team for up-to-the-second news and analysis.





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