Darren McFadden, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher last season, becomes eligible to return this week from the non-football injury list. But unlike at quarterback, there is no running back controversy.
Ezekiel Elliott has won the job and then some.
He became the first rookie in NFL history with four consecutive games of 130-plus yards, shredding the league’s top-ranked run defense.
“I’ve got to thank my O-line and those guys,” Elliott said. “They work their tails off, and they make it easy for me. I just have to go out there and compete and run the ball.”
The No. 4 overall pick rushed for 157 yards on 28 carries against a defense that had allowed only 171 rushing yards in its first four games. The Cowboys had 33 rushes for 191 yards.
“Obviously, Zeke is a big part of that running game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It starts up front with being physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. But the runner matters. He was physical throughout the game.
“What was most impressive was they weren’t easy [yards]. They were hard. They were hard the whole game. And then as the game wore on, you make bigger and bigger runs because you are downhill at them, and you wear them out. The physicalness in the early part of the game pays dividends, not only physical up front, but physical with the runner.”
Elliott leads the league with 703 yards on 137 carries. He has scored five touchdowns.
In his final season with the Cowboys in 2014, DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards. Elliott, with a 117.2 yards per game average, is on pace for 1,875 yards. That would break the league’s rookie mark of 1,808 yards that Eric Dickerson set in 1983.
Dez Bryant predicts even bigger numbers for Elliott.
“Yeah, I believe it. Two thousand or more. That’s my prediction,” Bryant said.
It doesn’t hurt that Elliott runs behind the league’s top offensive line. He repeatedly praised his linemen after the 30-16 victory over the Packers, refusing to take credit.
“I’ll take my O-line over any guys in the league,” Elliott said. “I’ll take my fullback over any in the league. These guys just come out and execute so well week in and week out. They’re the reason why this running game is so successful.”