There he was, the $90 million running back relegated defenseless on the sideline, forced to watch his $675,000 understudy take figurative food off his proverbial plate.
It may have gone unnoticed to the untrained eye that Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was benched in the second quarter of Monday’s 38-10 loss to Arizona, sat down by head coach Mike McCarthy after coughing up his second fumble of the game — the continuance of a disturbing pattern for the three-time Pro Bowler.
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The Cardinals converted the miscue into points, staking an early 14-0 lead their opponent never recovered from. So out came Elliott and in came 2019 preseason sensation Tony Pollard, who handled eight first-string snaps and was a significant factor throughout the evening.
McCarthy predictably was asked about Elliott during his post-game conference call. And he gave a predictable answer, explaining that “if you don’t take care of the football, it obviously will affect your opportunities.”
To which an indefensible Zeke agreed.
“They did the right thing,” he said, via USA Today. “I’m giving the ball away. I wasn’t helping the team. … I’m supposed to be a guy that this team can lean on when times get rough, and I just wasn’t that today.”
Whether it’s a lack of focus or awareness, Elliott is singlehandedly responsible for one-third of Dallas’ NFL-worst turnover differential (-12), losing four fumbles across six starts. You may recall when he literally could not hang onto the ball in Week 2; the issue hasn’t gotten any better.
Elliott never atoned for his butterfingers against the Cardinals, plodding his way to 49 scoreless yards on 12 carries. Pollard finished a close second with 10 totes — more than his last two games combined — for 31 yards, adding two receptions for nine yards.
Elliott did, however, apologize for them.
“I want to say that I’m sorry and this one’s on me and I just need to be better for this team,” he said, via USA Today. “When you’re fumbling, obviously teams are going to lock in on it and they’re going to go for it even more … I’ve got to figure it out, man.”
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McCarthy Commits to Zeke Despite Woes
Although ball security is job security, regardless of salary, as he explained, McCarthy doesn’t plan on making a permanent change in the backfield. Rather than admonish Elliott, the first-year head man echoed the status quo.
“At the end of the day, Zeke is our bellcow,” McCarthy said after the game. “We need to get it right. He’s part of the plan. He’s going to be a part of our success. So, we have to get it right. We have to take care of the football.”
It’s a good bet that Pollard, explosive in his own right, is given a full-time uptick in reps, but nothing that’ll drastically affect Elliott’s RB1 workload. In fact, with Dak Prescott replacement Andy Dalton neutering the offense under center, the latter should remain the centerpiece of the operation.
McCarthy reaffirmed Monday that Elliott will start the Cowboys’ Week 7 road contest against the Washington Football Team. “Yes. Zeke Elliott will be starting this week. Yeah,” he said, via the Dallas Morning News.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL