One of the travesties from an utterly underwhelming 2019 Cowboys campaign — and there were many — involved backup running back Tony Pollard.
Even after seamlessly replacing Ezekiel Elliott during his summer holdout, Pollard was sparingly-used during a promising rookie year, then mothballed altogether, forced to watch as Dallas rode Elliott, the richest RB in NFL history, to the tune of 301 carries.
It’s a mistake the old Cowboys regime would like to undo, a mistake the new regime likely will avoid repeating.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore survived the coaching transition from Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy and all that it entailed. Given full autonomy to call plays under McCarthy, who’s traditionally handled that duty himself, Moore describes the 2020 offense in a way that portends well for Pollard’s future outlook.
“It’s a get-the-best-players-the-ball offense,” Moore told reporters last month, via The Athletic. “Up there, they were able to throw the rock a bunch. Hey, that’s absolutely what you should be doing. We got some other pieces here, and we’ll be trying to figure out what our formula is for that, but I don’t see any concern with that.
“We got a running back who is really good and another one behind him (Tony Pollard) who is really good, and we want to get them the ball.”
Making 15 appearances, oftentimes the lone gameday back behind Elliott, Pollard demonstrated explosive dual-threat abilities, totaling 455 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries (a sparkling 5.3 yards per tote) and 107 yards and an additional TD on 15 receptions.
He didn’t get much burn but made every rep count. Pollard finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded rookie rusher (82.9), trailing only Oakland’s Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Josh Jacobs (87.2).
The fourth-round pick out of Memphis was an instant sensation, leading the club in preseason rushing yards (84) and TDs (1). And he quickly gained the respect of his higher-ups, including owner/general manager Jerry Jones. After Dallas’ exhibition victory over the Rams, a game in which Pollard notched 42 yards and a score while Elliott trained in Cabo, Jones now-infamously uttered, “Zeke who?!” — a nod to his underling’s sparkling effort.
Pollard shouldn’t expect to inherit a lion’s share of touches as a sophomore. Nowhere close to that. The Moore-McCarthy scheme will revolve around quarterback Dak Prescott, complemented with a hefty dose of Elliott, a caliber of player McCarthy never rostered amid his Green Bay tenure.
“I think first off with Zeke, he’s going to get the football,” McCarthy said last month, via Pro Football Talk. “Let’s make no mistake about that. I think you have to clearly understand when you saw the offense is going to make a quarterback successful, the best play to make him successful is a great run game. We clearly understand what we have here and how we could build off of that.”
But it’s clear that putting too much on Dak or Zeke’s plate invariably leads to suboptimal results. It’d behoove the Cowboys to spell Elliott more and sideline Pollard less. Consider: He averaged roughly five carries per game and only four times went over 10 attempts. It’s borderline criminal usage for a player who always manages to make something happen when he’s on the field.
Fortunately, it appears Moore has seen the error of his ways. Which spells excellent news for No. 20.
Follow the Heavy on Cowboys Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
Moore Talks McCarthy, ‘Collaborative’ Cowboys Offense
Taking over for Scott Linehan, Moore was a breath of fresh air this past season, his creative passing concepts a welcome change for Prescott and everyone involved in the offense. He wasn’t perfect — rather inconsistent and mistake-prone, befitting a first-year coordinator — but the results speak for themselves.
The Cowboys produced the league’s top offense in yards per game (431.5) and the second-best passing attack (296.6 YPG), as Prescott finished second behind Jameis Winston with a career-high 4,902 passing yards, one shy of the team’s all-time single-season record held by Tony Romo.
Upon arriving at The Star, however, new Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy undid the entirety of the offensive staff, pink-slipping QB coach Jon Kitna and replacing him with ex-tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier. He imported Nussmeier’s successor and new assistants to tutor the running backs, wide receivers, and offensive line.
To mild surprise, McCarthy not only kept Moore — one of just three Garrett-era holdovers to return — but he handed the 31-year-old complete play-calling privileges. And it’s “certainly very appreciated” he’ll do those honors in 2020.
“Certainly at the end of the day, I know this thing will be collaborative and we’ll work through it together, and we’ll find the best situation and best outcome out of it,” Moore said last month, via Pro Football Talk.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL