FRISCO - It's part of NFL lore: Everybody likes the backup QB, in large part because they don't yet know his game well enough to dislike it.
Right now in Dallas, a similar phenomenon is unfolding in Cowboys Nation, where there is some 2021 clamoring for Tony Pollard to take away some of Ezekiel Elliott's carries.
Since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Zeke has been Dallas' bell cow. He led the NFL in carries as a rookie (322) and did so again in 2018 (304). But in 2021, his carries dipped to 244.
Why? Three reasons:
1) All those fumbles got in the way.
2) Without quarterback Dak Prescott for much of the year, Dallas found itself playing from behind too often.
3) The Dallas coaching staff - finally, in the minds of some - found some use for backup running back Tony Pollard.
As a 2019 rookie, Pollard was allowed just 199 snaps. Last year, the elusive "scatback'' played 363 snaps, with his breakout effort coming in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers, when he rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns while also catching six passes for 63 yards.
Said owner Jerry Jones at the time: "They're two different type backs. Zeke is a tremendous weapon ... because physicalness does have an impact and does wear down and does win ... We've always 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."
In total in 2020, Pollard ended up with 435 yards and four touchdowns, plus 28 catches for 193 yards and another score.
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“I’ll be fine,” Dak Prescott says, noting that the boot he is wearing “is a precaution.''
Meanwhile, of course, Elliott - the two-time NFL rushing champ - finds himself coming off his poorest statistical season, with just 65.3 rushing yards per game.
Pro Football Focus thinks Pollard is the Cowboys’ most underrated player, noting that "Pollard is tied with Derrick Henry for the best yards after contact average in the league (4.0) and tied with Nick Chubb for the best broken tackle rate (0.25).”
The numbers are not debatable. But PFF's other position here, as it regards Zeke vs. Pollard, is: “The Dallas Cowboys are in a tough spot. By handing Ezekiel Elliott the contract they did, it is very difficult for them to reduce his role to the level it should be based on how Pollard has performed when given the opportunity.''
The truth is, there is room for both. Pollard is not a better football player than Elliott, who by the way seems to be putting in the offseason work with a goal of increased elusiveness. Zeke is, and has always been, a power back.
Pollard is a scatback.
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The Dallas offense, with visions of 30-point Sundays dancing in its head, has room for a back who can "establish the run'' while also serving as a "closer,'' with the ability to catch the ball and high-level talent as a pass-protector in between. That's Ezekiel Elliott.
There is also room to stretch the contractual value of Zeke by lessening his load at times, by using two backs at once, and by situational spotting of the home-run threat that exists. That's Tony Pollard.
"It's big,'' Pollard said after that win over the Niners, which by the way occurred while Elliott was nursing a calf problem. "Just knowing that everything doesn't have to run through one guy, or a few guys. There's different guys on the team that can carry the weight, help take some of the weight off the other guys' shoulders, the leaders on the team. It's definitely big."
That's the point here: Not "either/or,'' but rather, "The distribution of burden.'' There are answers that can allow Cowboys Nation to "like'' both running backs.