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Dynamic Duo: Cowboys RBs Ezekiel Elliott & Tony Pollard - NFL Top Tandem?

Where does the paring of Cowboys running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard ran among the league’s top corps of running backs?

FRISCO - Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is set to enter his seventh NFL season. The 26-year-old’s blend of power and finesse, allowed him to earn his fourth 1000-yard rushing season in 2021. Despite a bit of a statistical dip in recent years, Elliott is still considered among the elite players at his position.

Still, even Batman had his Robin.

Elliott’s backfield teammate Tony Pollard has not only become a formidable complementary piece in Dallas’ stable of backs - he has also shown flashes of elite play. In fact, Cowboys fans continue to clamor for Pollard’s increased involvement in the team’s offensive gameplan.

As a tandem, both Elliott and Pollard provide quarterback Dak Prescott with a reliable and oftentimes explosive running game to balance a potent offense. The pair of rushers routinely command the respect and attention of opposing defenses as one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.

Still, the question remains on exactly where Dallas’ ‘dynamic duo’ ranks in the current NFL landscape.

Recently, Pro Football Focus (PFF) attempted to answer that question by ranking the team of Elliott and Pollard as the the seventh-best backfield in the NFL.

Here is a look at PFF’s reasoning behind the ranking:

7. DALLAS COWBOYS

This isn’t a space to get into the Ezekiel Elliott versus Tony Pollard debates. This is a space to appreciate what they offer as a backfield tandem.

2022 Cowboys’ RB Duo 2021 Rushing Grade 2021 Missed Tackles Forced 2021 Receiving Grade Ezekiel Elliot 76.32 155.3 Tony Pollard 90.32 764.9

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The pre-injury Elliott from last season — who picked up a first down or touchdown on 30% of his runs through the first four weeks — is still a valuable between-the-tackles runner. Pollard provides the juice that Elliott doesn’t in his complementary role. The fourth-year back out of Memphis has been one of the more efficient runners in the league over the last three seasons. Only Chubb and Henry have averaged more yards after contact per attempt than Pollard since 2019.

While ranking seventh on this list may seem a bit low, especially considering both the prowess and prestige of both Elliott and Pollard, a number of factors were considered in this ranking. First, Elliott’s health and injury history is regularly a concern for the Cowboys, making it difficult for the team to fully lean on his abilities in the ground game. Also, some have argued that since signing a six year, $90 million contract extension with Dallas in 2019, Elliott’s statistical output has waned a bit. Following a notable slide in 2020 (in which Elliott failed to reach the 1000-yard mark for the first time since his suspension-shortened season of 2017), the Ohio State product ran for 1002 yards on 237 carries, compiling 10 touchdowns. Though the timing of his extension contract does correspond with his slight decline, it should be noted that Elliott has been a mainstay on the Cowboys’ injury report over the past two seasons — playing through hamstring, calf, knee and ribs injuries. Had Elliott been fully healthy, his on-field output would have certainly been higher — perhaps, as would the Cowboys ranking on the list.

Pollard, on the other hand, enjoyed his best pro season in 2021, running for 719 yards on 130 carries (averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry) and two rushing touchdowns. The Memphis product was often dynamic with the ball in his hands. Yet, the overall consensus seems to be that Pollard was underutilized in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense. … and this off-season has been used as a receiver. 

So far, it’s possible the 25-year-old has likely yet to scratch the surface of his potential. Should Eliott’s health struggles once again surface in 2022, Pollard should be called upon to shoulder the load. At the very least, McCarthy and the Cowboys offensive brain trust must find both traditional and creative ways to further incorporate Pollard into Dallas’ offense.

Expectations are high heading into the upcoming season for the Dallas Cowboys. Though much attention will be placed on Prescott and the passing game, the rushing tandem of Elliott and Pollard might be primed for a breakout year. It would be smart for the Cowboys to utilize each back to his full potential. Having two potentially game-breaking backs in their arsenal for 2022 is not a luxury of which they are guaranteed to have in 2023. Pollard is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and is likley to command a hefty salary on the open market. Conversely, the structuring of Elliott’s deal allows Dallas greater flexibility to cut ties with the star running back in 2023, absorbing just north of $11.8 million in dead money if released. In other words…it’s now, or [maybe] never.

As a result, 2022 looks to be a pivotal year for the Cowboys. The pieces are in place both on offense and defense. While the argument can be made that the arm of Dak Prescott holds team’s fate, it may ultimately be determined by how far they can travel on the legs of their ‘dynamic duo’ of rushers.

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