Ezekiel Elliott needed only two words to address anybody who is of the mindset that he’s lost a step.
“Shut up,” Elliott said.
Elliott doesn’t feel he’s lost a step, even though he’s off to a slower start than most expected. Elliott is on pace to barely crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 1,024 yards, which would be a significant decline from a year ago when he was the league’s rushing champ with 1,631 yards.
It’s early in the season, though, and Elliott feels like the Dallas Cowboys running game has begun to find its stride. The “lost a step” question arose after Elliott had a season-long 30-yard run in the second quarter of Monday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
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On third-and-1, Elliott hit a hole up the middle, broke a tackle and bounced outside for the long gain. Some fans felt he should have taken it to the end zone, possibly if he’d stayed vertical, but Elliott disputed that notion.
“I think I gained more yards the way I ran it,” Elliott said.
Elliott finished the game with 80 rushing yards on 22 carries, including a touchdown. Along with the 30-yard run, he also had a 20-yard run. So he had 20 carries go for only 30 yards.
But that’s better than the 8 yards on nine carries he had in Week 2 at Denver. Elliott believes the rushing attack will continue to get better beginning Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
“We’ve had a little bit of growing pains in the first couple of games, but we’re getting there,” Elliott said. “We’re getting into a rhythm and plan on getting better every week.”
That sounds good, of course, but there is still a suspension cloud hanging over Elliott’s head. The NFL handed him a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, stemming from domestic violence allegations in July 2016, but he and the NFL Players’ Association is fighting it in federal court.
Elliott’s fate could be known as early as next week.
A hearing on the NFL’s emergency motion for a stay is scheduled on Monday when the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in New Orleans will hear arguments from the NFL and NFLPA for 20 minutes.
The court could decide to grant the stay, which would mean Elliott would begin serving the six-game suspension immediately. Or they could deny the stay, which would allow Elliott to continue playing while the matter goes through the legal system.
Or they could effectively have the case dismissed from the Eastern District of Texas, which would likely prompt the process to restart in the Southern District of New York.
Elliott and the Cowboys, though, continue to do their best to not let that situation infiltrate the locker room.
“We’re just focused on what we can control,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Zeke’s done a great job focusing on what he can control, coming to work every day of practice preparing to go play on Sundays. He’s done a really good job of that.
“We’ve just tried to stay focused on what’s in front of us and what’s in our control.”
On the field, that’s getting Elliott and the running game established early and often.
Opposing defenses have given Elliott plenty of attention early on, but Monday served as more of a signature game of what the Cowboys want to do.
The running game might not have been pretty most of the night, but it eventually wore the Cardinals defense down enough to get the win.
In other words, the 2017 Cowboys are getting closer to the 2016 version.
“I think we’re getting really close,” center Travis Frederick said. “When you look at it at the end of the day, we haven’t been as productive as we want to be. But we answer these questions every year. We have a game we’re not rushing as many yards, you say, ‘Well, if they’re going to stack the box, you want to throw it.’ There are a lot of circumstances that go into it.
“I do think that we’re not as productive as we like to be, and as efficient as we like to be in the run game, so we do need to work on it.”
Cowboys vs. Rams
Noon Sunday, KDFW/4