There was a time, as ridiculous as it seems now, when the Dallas Cowboys made a show of trying to tamp down expectations for Ezekiel Elliott.
On a sun-splashed practice field in Oxnard, California, in early August, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan stood and talked about his rookie running back. At this time, Elliott had a hamstring injury that was keeping him out of practice a bit. Linehan said all the right things.
“We’ve got to do the right thing by him. He’s a rookie, and so you have to make sure he gets the time he needs to develop,” Linehan said, then he smiled. “But then I watch what he can do out here, and I think it’s going to be pretty hard to take him off the field.”
The Cowboys aren’t going to take Elliott off the field. Their greatest current fear, as a matter of fact, is that commissioner Roger Goodell might take him off the field. But unless the NFL decides to suspend Elliott as a result of its investigation into domestic violence allegations against him, there appears to be nothing that can stop the former Ohio State star at the present time.
With 1,005 rushing yards through nine games, with three touchdowns (including the game winner) in Sunday’s comeback-over-and-over victory in Pittsburgh, Elliott is dominating the league. Running behind the NFL’s most dominant offensive line and taking handoffs from the only man besides him who has half a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Elliott is currently the most potent offensive force in the game.
At this point, even with Tony Romo healthy enough to play, Dak Prescottdeserves to be the Cowboys quarterback. But Ezekiel Elliott deserves to be the league’s MVP.
There’s a lot going on in Dallas that has put the Cowboys’ star rookies in position to succeed. Merely decent offensive line play gives you a weekly advantage in the NFL of 2016, but the Cowboys are, in this area, dominant. Entering Sunday’s games, Elliott had 495 rushing yards before first contact this season — third most in the league. He added 82 more (out of his 114 total) on Sunday night. After ambling through a hole the size of an airplane hangar door on the game-winning touchdown, Elliott said, “It parted like the Red Sea. All I had to do was run.”
But neither Elliott nor anyone else should sell him short as a runner. He also carried with him into Sunday’s action a league-leading 396 yards after first contact. He has the ability to shed tackles and maintain his momentum. He has the ability to separate from pursuers in the open field. He’s strong enough as a pass protector that the Cowboys don’t have to take him off the field on third downs. They also view him as a strong receiver, though they haven’t used his receiving skills much. His 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown Sunday showcased another breathtaking element of Elliott’s game that may be yet to come.
Elliott is, through nine games, everything the Cowboys expected him to be when they used the No. 4 pick in the draft on him. They knew they had the killer offensive line; they saw Elliott as a player who could help them maximize it. Together, he and the “slobs” (as he calls them) up front are executing the Cowboys’ offseason vision in a way even their most optimistic decision-makers could not have envisioned. They thought he’d help make Romo’s life easier. It’s a major bonus that he’s doing that instead for fellow rookie Prescott.
Eight of the past nine NFL MVP awards have gone to quarterbacks, and before it’s all said and done guys like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr and even Prescott may have their say in who wins it this year. But at this point in the season, it looks like one of those years when a running back stands out from the crowd as just too dominant to deny.
The Cowboys can’t take Elliott off the field because he’s too valuable. And that’s what the “V” in MVP stands for, after all.