Don’t look now, but Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is hitting his stride and on one of his patented rolls.
He has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games, bringing his total number of 100-yard games for the season to five.
Similar midseason runs catapulted him to NFL rushing titles in two of his first three seasons. It would have been 3 for 3 if not for a six-game suspension in 2017, when he still led the league in yards per game.
Elliott ranks sixth in the league in rushing with 741 yards. But his yards per game rank fourth, as several of the runners ahead of him have yet to have their bye, including leading rusher Dalvin Cook, of the Minnesota Vikings, who has 894 yards in nine games and will face off against Elliott and the Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
But while he would love to add to his individual hardware, Elliott’s eyes are on a bigger prize, something Super.
“I don’t think it’s really that important,” said Elliott of the rushing title. “Like, we love it, but it’s like, if it happens, it happens. What’s important to us is the Super Bowl. You know what I mean? Everything else will handle itself along the way.”
Everything certainly has handled itself well, so far, for Elliott in a season that began with him missing training camp and the preseason because of a contract despite.
He signed six-year, $90 million extension four days before the season opener and has not missed a beat.
“Zeke has played well from the outset of his career,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s played well from the outset of the season. Sometimes, people like to say this is a trend or that is a trend. He’s a guy we give a lot of responsibility to and typically responds and plays very well, handles it at a high level. He’s certainly done that for us.”
But even Elliott admits he’s been in a groove the past few weeks, culminating with the easiest 139 yards on 23 carries of his career in a 37-18 victory against the New York Giants.
“Our guys did a really good job blocking them,” Garrett said. “But when 21 got the ball, he was stretching the defense and then putting his foot in the ground, and going north and south and finishing runs. He’s a hard guy to tackle.
“I don’t know how many explosive runs he had, how many plus-20-yard runs he had, but I know he had a huge impact on the ballgame.”
Said Elliott: “I don’t even know if I broke a tackle; I just ran inside the scheme. Those guys just mauled them up front. Thanks to them for making it easy on me. Got to love the big fellas.”
Elliott specializes in the dirty, tough yards that give the Cowboys their physical identity. He is always leaning forward and falling for positive for yards, which he learned the hard way when he was 7 in peewee football.
“First time doing the Oklahoma drill, I was trying to run high, and the guy hit me and knocked the wind out of me. I was crying,” Elliott said. “Ever since then, I run with my pads down.”
Elliott continues to credit the offensive line for opening holes because he has an up-close view of the destruction in front of him.
Tackles La’el Collins and Tyrone Smith are healthy after being slowed by injuries, as is Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin, who has managed a back injury this season. Add in center Travis Frederick, who’s getting more comfortable after missing last season with Guillain-Barre syndrome, and left guard Connor Williams playing more consistently, and you have a Cowboys offensive line again living up to its opponent-demoralizing billing as the best unit in the league.
“When you hear the other team getting disappointed in themselves because literally they can’t do anything to stop you, that takes a toll on them physically and mentally,” Elliott said. “When they’re going out there and beating up on guys like that, it’s tough for a defense to play four quarters, if you keep getting hit in the mouth every play.”
If they continue to maul up front, it’s going to be tough to keep Elliott from joining Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, O.J. Simpson, Steve Van Buren, Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson as the only three-time rushing champions in NFL history.
Only Brown, Campbell, Dickerson and Smith did in it three of their first four years in the league.