The Dallas Cowboys have done some major remodeling to their offense this offseason. Some of it was necessary, some of it was self-scouting and some of it was player driven, but it means there will be different faces on offense. Things will change, especially in the passing game.
Right now, we know the Cowboys have foreshadowed changes in the scheme, but we don’t know what that will look like yet. What we do know is that Ezekiel Elliott will be the workhorse lining up behind the offensive line and Dak Prescott. Zeke is one of the best running backs in the NFL and the offense should flow through him. As a pure runner, Elliott might be the best in the game.
However, if the offense is going to run at an optimal level in 2018, Zeke needs to be a bigger part of the passing game. The Cowboys lost a ton of targets last year, gone are the 220 passes thrown Dez Bryant and Jason Witten’s way. New wide receivers Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup will eat into that target share, as will the newly acquired Tavon Austin and the tight ends, but Zeke needs more looks as a receiver.
Throwing to Elliott is an easy way to get/keep Prescott in a rhythm and we’ve all seen the results of how successful Zeke is in the passing game. In his rookie season, Elliott broke a screen for an 83-yard touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and last year he scored on a 72-yarder in San Francisco. It gives the defense another thing to worry about and getting Zeke the ball in open space with this athletic group of lineman out in front of him is almost unfair. Dallas only threw to Elliott 40 times as a rookie and the targets would’ve been higher last season if he played a full 16 games. He also averaged over 10 yards per catch in each of his first two seasons and is a homerun threat every time he touches the ball, yet the offense still didn’t utilize him enough in the passing game.
Expect that to change in 2018.
The impression is passing game coordinator Scott Linehan knows he needs to throw it more to Elliott and he has a successful track record of throwing to running backs in the past. In his last two stops in the NFL, the St. Louis Rams (2006-2008) and the Detroit Lions (2009-2013), here are the leading receivers out of the backfield for Linehan:
2006 Steven Jackson: 90 catches, 806 yards, three touchdowns
2007 Jackson (12 games): 38 catches, 271 yards, one touchdown
2008 Jackson (12 games): 40 catches, 379 yards, one touchdown
2009 Kevin Smith (13 games): 41 catches, 415 yards, one touchdown
2010 Jahvid Best (rookie year): 58 catches, 487 yards, two touchdowns
2011 Best (6 games) & Maurice Morris combined: 53 catches, 517 yards, two touchdowns
2012 Joique Bell: 52 catches, 485 yards, 0 touchdowns
2013 Reggie Bush (14 games): 54 catches, 506 yards, three touchdowns
The only two players who had talent comparable to Elliott on that list are Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush, and both guys put up great numbers with Linehan at the helm. Zeke might not catch 90 passes for over 800 yards like Jackson did in ‘06, but catching 50+ passes for around 600 yards is very attainable. If Joique Bell and Jahvid Best caught 50 balls a year in Linehan’s offense, there’s no reason to believe that Elliott can’t match that production.
Ezekiel Elliott has the hands to be a reliable receiver and the instincts as a runner to do damage in the passing game. If Linehan and Jason Garrett don’t use him enough as a receiver, they are limiting what the Cowboys’ offense can be. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Zeke to be a difference maker, they need to use all of his abilities to maximize his potential.
It’s time to unleash Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game.
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