How’s this for a bounceback year?
NFL.com columnist Adam Schein, in recently unleashing nine bold predictions for 2021, explained why he foresees “a highly motivated” Elliott capturing his third career rushing title.
“It’s been a minute, but Elliott has actually led the league in rushing twice. A lot of people are down on Zeke in the wake of a 2020 season where he averaged a career-low 4.0 yards per carry, but I think he still has it,” Schein wrote. “I know running backs generally struggle to age gracefully, but Elliott’s far from geriatric, turning 26 in July.
“With a healthy, properly compensated Dak Prescott back in the fold, Dallas is going to dominate offensively. I envision the Cowboys jumping out to a lot of leads, allowing a highly motivated Zeke to play Emmitt Smith meets Mariano Rivera by closing games with chunks of yards.”
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One-Two RB Punch
By suggesting Elliott will be “closing games,” Schein intimated a bigger role for third-year understudy Tony Pollard, lightning to the former’s thunder. Pollard displayed a second gear last season that largely escaped Elliott; this was evident amid his two-touchdown December effort against the 49ers — a Dallas victory punctuated with Pollard’s 40-yard late-fourth-quarter scoring scamper.
It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore devise a committee approach that allows Pollard to land early body blows before Elliott delivers the late-game haymaker. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones, in fact, broached such designs prior to 2020 mercifully concluding.
“They’re two different type backs,” Jones said in December. “…Zeke is a tremendous weapon for football because physicalness does have an impact and does wear down and does win when it can be a part of not making as many mistakes as we’ve made a lot of times (on offense) when we’ve seen that earlier this year.
“We’ve always frankly known that with Pollard that we had an alternative there that was another way to do it, but a good way to do it. They make quite a tandem.”
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ESPN Analyst Takes Aim at Zeke
Not all prognostication is created equal. Whereas Schein believes in the near-certainty of Elliott’s return to dominance, ESPN NFL analyst and ex-Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky indicated the Cowboys will not achieve divisional superiority until the sport’s highest-paid RB pulls his weight.
Even then, Orlovsky argued, Dallas is likely to finish no higher than third place in the NFC East in 2021, behind the better-coached Washington Football Team and New York Giants.
“In 2019, arguably Dak’s best season, they don’t win the division,” Orlovsky said earlier this week. “Last year, Dak is balling the first four or five games before his injury, and they don’t win a lot of football games. So, the quarterback play for the Cowboys doesn’t mean division title doesn’t equal a ton of wins. Even last year, in the first four games, their offensive line was playing really bad football. They were a bottom five offensive line when you look at the tape or when you look at numbers. Ezekiel Elliott had one explosive play. He has to play better.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL