Ezekiel Elliott

The calls to “Free Tony Pollard” will only increase in volume as the weeks go by. The running back for the Dallas Cowboys is poised to become a superstar. All that stands in the way of the fourth-year ballcarrier making the leap is the team’s stubbornness in continuing to use Ezekiel Elliott (and his exorbitant deal) as the primary running back.

Whoever is running has a distinct advantage in terms of speed and power. In the Monday, November 25, 23-16 victory over the New York Giants, Pollard carried the ball 13 times for 105 yards (8.1 yards per carrying).

Elliott carried the ball 15 times for 73 yards (4.9 yards per carrying) less than his opponent. That play suggested a potential leadership transition in the backfield, and I don’t mean just Jason Peters taking over next to Tyler Smith (though that’s due to happen, too).

In light of his proven track record and Dallas’s financial situation, it is easy to see why the team relies so heavily on Elliott. 2016’s No. 4 overall pick has been to the Pro Bowl three times and has had four seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving. Since he’s only 27, he hasn’t yet reached the stage in his career where his output dangles precariously over the edge like Wile E. Coyotes. At $18.2 million, Elliott has the largest salary cap hit of any back in the league.

Getting a good ROI is crucial. Victory in sporting events is much more satisfying. The Cowboys, who are 2-1 so far this season, have games coming up against division rivals Washington Commanders, Super Bowl champions Los Angeles Rams, and the unbeaten and division-leading Philadelphia Eagles.

Pollard must take on a larger role in the offense for its full potential to be realized. Even the coordinator, Kellen Moore, is aware of this. Two weeks before the start of the regular season, Moore stated of Elliott and Pollard, “We obviously want those players to have touched, and it’s a question of finding those different roles.”

We want to be resourceful with both of them, playing on the field at the same time. Of course, if one of the guys is out, the other one will step up and help out. Consequently, I believe it will be a fascinating challenge for us to sort of pair those guys together and be inventive in how we can use them in different areas and find success.

However, in two games, Pollard’s number was called only 15 times by the coaches. He now has six receptions to his stats. Elliott still led in carries, but there was a pivotal moment late in Monday’s game.

The Cowboys needed a first down or two on their final offensive drive, and Pollard started the series behind quarterback Cooper Rush. After only three snaps, he had gained 15 yards, and then Elliott came back into the game.

Pollard is not considered a strong closer. Elliott has confirmed this. Because of “his evasiveness and explosiveness. He finally said, “I go in there and pound them a little bit.” Later, he’ll enter and “break some long ones,” as the saying goes.

He truly deserves to be called an explosive force, as the 6’0″, 209-pounder truly is. Despite having 107 fewer touches than Elliott last year, Pollard recorded one more run of 20 yards or more than Elliott. The Memphis product is a dangerous slasher who can really get going once he gets through the lane. He’s not just a substitute player, though. Pollard can handle additional responsibility.

Mina Kimes pointed out that Pollard was third in the league in yards after contact in the same category in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, he had the fourth-lowest missed tackle rate per touch in the league since 2019. The 25-year-old offers an impressive mix of unheralded strength and superb balance to compensate for his diminutive stature.

Pollard’s upbringing plays a role in why he isn’t your typical 220-pound thumper. He played both running back and wide receiver for the Tigers. His innate dexterity in traversing routes, which includes his work in space, makes him a potent weapon if used correctly.

The running back route tree, the quick game, and “just kind of the completion plays,” as Moore put it, are not all that he plans to use. It’s been said of him, “He can stretch people vertically, and I think it will be a great advantage for him to put people in conflict over how they want to manage him.”

However, the Cowboys have yet to make use of this facet of their talents. Last year, Pollard had 39 receptions, enough for sixth on the team but with room to improve with more playing time.

Monday’s zero-degree temperature wasn’t exactly motivational. The Dallas coaching staff hasn’t been able to think outside the box and find a way to deploy Elliott and Pollard at the same time. Elliott and Pollard can play together in the backfield or Moore can move Pollard to the slot.

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Since Michael Gallup has not yet returned from injury and James Washington is on injured reserve, Dallas’ wide receiver depth is in question. The coaching staff should do everything possible to maximize playing time for the team’s most valuable players. In order to aid Rush and, eventually, Dak Prescott, Pollard’s snap count must climb in the coming weeks.

Both players—and the squad as a whole—would benefit from a switch of duties between the two backs. Elliott’s average rushing yardage has dropped every season over the past five years. In terms of output, he is currently behind his three-game average from the previous year. The cumulative wear and strain of the runners 1,690 carry over seven years is becoming apparent.

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If Pollard takes over as the starting running back, Elliott will be able to take advantage of his reduced workload and increase his productivity. The pairing of Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara with the New Orleans Saints was very similar. After one year, Kamara took center stage while Ingram became the team’s go-to hammer. The city of Dallas ought to use this as a model.

The two biggest roadblocks are egos and money. When Dallas is off to such a good start despite losing several important players to injury, this simply cannot occur. Nothing works like victory at curing. Having Elliott take a backseat to Pollard is not a bad thing. Indeed, the Cowboys should take this course of action.

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