Ezekiel Elliott Usage: The Cowboys' Question - Or the Cowboys' Answer?

Mike Fisher

FRISCO - The Dallas Cowboys this week at Detroit face a classic football dilemma: After a loss last week in which Ezekiel Elliott's usage resulted in a lack of production, should they bow to the struggles and rely on him less? Or fix the problem by relying on him more?

"Feed Zeke'' has always been a viable answer around here. But Dallas managed just 47 yards rushing on 20 attempts in Sunday night’s 28-24 loss to the Vikings, and what I've labeled "Institutionalized Stubbornness'' contributed to the paucity of production, as in that game:

*Dallas averaged a woeful 2.4 yards per carry on 16 first-down runs

*Dallas failed to run for a first down in a game for only the third time in franchise history

*Dallas insisted on "sticking with the run'' late in the game, opting for back-to-back handoffs on second-and-2 and then third-and-2 - a sign of confidence in a Cowboys staple that hadn't, in this game, earned that confidence.

“You never expect to have a performance like that,” Elliott said this week. "But you just got to take it with that chip on your shoulder and use it as fuel when you go back to work the next week and try to not let it happen again.”

For Elliott and the 5-4 Cowboys, "next week'' is now. Dallas travels to 3-5-1 Detroit for a meeting with a Lions team that has offensive talent (but far less so with QB Matthew Stafford expecting to miss) but on defense cannot stop opposing running backs.

As colleague Evan Silva points out, the Lions defense has allowed running backs 977 rushing yards, the NFL’s third-most receiving yards (535) and 14 TDs in nine games.

Maybe this is an OK week for Dallas to be "stubborn.''

It's obviously too early to write off the Cowboys as playoff contenders, or to write off Elliott. He's 24, has two rushing titles under his belt, is the bell cow of the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack and is on pace for a 1,400-yard season. It seems there are three views here inside The Star on all of this, three views that, once translated, need to be meshed into one successful view.

There is owner Jerry Jones' answer to my question about what the Vikings did to stuff Dallas' running game.

“You basically could’ve put a sign on the start of the game that said ‘Zeke’s not going anywhere,'' he told me, "and that was the story of the game.''

Translation: "We got out-coached.''

There is coach Jason Garrett's postgame reaction to the same.

“It’s important for us to continue to try to run the ball,” Garrett said. “In normal circumstances you would think, if we give it to Zeke a couple times on second and inside of two yards, that we’re going to make that first down. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in this game.”

Translation (I think): "We're going to create the appearance of calm, even when 'calm' might not actual help.''

And finally there is Ezekiel Elliott's summation.

There is, Zeke said, “no reason for concern.”

Translation: "There is concern. But we've got the answers.''