Dallas Cowboys

Where has the home run gone? Cowboys star RB Ezekiel Elliott wondering the same thing

On the second drive of the first quarter in the devastating 24-22 loss to the formerly winless New York Jets on Sunday, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was thinking the same thing as many fans at home.

A sweep around right end opened up as wide as the New Jersey turnpike and he had a toll pass in front of him in the form of center Travis Frederick with seemingly nothing but clear sailing from there to the end zone.

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It should have been a sure touchdown or at least a long run to give the offense a much-needed jolt.

A wide-eyed and impatient Elliott, however, cut inside left rather than wait for Frederick get a block on safety Marcus Maye to possibly bounce outside to daylight.

Maye followed Elliott and cut under Frederick to make the tackle for a 12-yard gain.

It was a nice play. It gave the Cowboys a first down. But it could have been so much more, possibly a game-deciding 75-yard touchdown run.

In the end, it was another example of poor execution that has failed the Cowboys (3-3) during their current three-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3).

That drive resulted in just three points as a 16-yard pass to receiver Tavon Austin was called back because he lined up wrong and Michael Gallup dropped a pass on third down.

All Elliott remembers is his inability to take it to the house.

“It’s definitely a play I wish I could get back, a play that could have changed the game, maybe could have won the game,” Elliott said. “When I look back on the first six weeks weeks of the season, just like I leave Sunday, not having those regrets or not having those plays I wish I could get back.

“There’s going to be plays where you say I could have done this or I could have done that. The biggest thing is just trying to limit those plays Sunday so that when you come back Monday and watch film, you’re not like, ‘Dang.’”

For a Cowboys team that is struggling to score points in the first half of games and suddenly lacking in big plays from the passing game due to zone coverage and injuries, it’s more like where has “the bang” gone from Elliott.

The two-time NFL rushing champion took the league by storm as a rookie in 2016 with ability to be physical as well as hit the home run as he did in college at Ohio State.

He had seven runs and five receptions of 25 yards or longer as a rookie.

Those numbers dwindled to 4 and 3 in 2017, 3 and 3 in 2018 and 1 and 1 through six games in 2019.

He had four runs of 30 yards or more as a rookie but just three over the last three years combined and none this year.

“Those are things you always want to have,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been a pretty consistent runner for us. He makes a lot of dirty yards. He makes a lot of explosive runs, we call 12 yards or more. And he’s made some big runs for us throughout his career.

“Typically, though, everybody has something to do with that. That’s always a point of emphasis to turn that 12-yard run in that 40-yard run. So we’ll keep emphasizing that. And that’s an important part of running the football, being able to make some of those big plays.”

Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million contract to make him the highest paid running back in NFL history four days before the season opener and has been productive through six games.

He is fifth in the NFL in rushing with 491 yards on 113 yards and ranks third with 16 rushes of 10 yards or more.

In fact, he has more runs (126) of 10 yards or more since 2016 than anyone in the league.

But even he acknowledges the home run is missing and has been missing for a couple of years.

“Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know,” Elliott said when asked where the long runs have gone. “I just think you know maybe the luck of the draw, something that’s off about me. I’ve just got to be better.”

Again, it’s not something that’s lost on Elliott. He lamented the lack of long runs as something he needed to improve on during the Cowboys Hour podcast on the team website Monday.

“There is always something you can better at and for me, my biggest thing probably the past two years is trying to hit those long runs,” Elliott said. “It’s something I have been focusing on, my second level running.

“When I get the opportunity to take it the difference, make sure I don’t hesitate. That’s how you miss those opportunities. When you think you have a chance to break it, just break it. Just go. If you hesitate, it’s going to be too late.”

Elliott won’t necessarily be looking for home runs in what believes is going to be a dogfight Sunday against the Eagles and a run defense that ranks second in the league, allowing just 72.8 yards per game.

But he understands, with receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cooper questionable at best due to injuries, there is a bigger burden on him to bring firepower to the offense in what could become a shootout.

“It just means to tighten my game up that much more because like that second run of mine (against the Jets),” Elliott said. “If I would have scored there, that’s a different game.

“So, I mean, you can’t press. You can’t go out there tense. You can’t go out there and force a big play. You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to trust your training and go out there and play ball and let it happen.”

Elliott has three 100-yard games against the Eagles and is averaging 115.8 yards per game against them in his career.

This story was originally published October 16, 2019 7:07 PM.

Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.
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