Dallas Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin didn’t make the trip to Tampa because he tested positive for COVID, while Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott might as well have stayed back at The Star, too.
The return of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was a success in the season opener on Thursday night, but the new look Zeke was a disaster.
The Cowboys’ painful 31-29 last-second loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs was proof that this Dak’s team because Zeke looks increasingly done.
Zeke is coming of the worst season of his career, and while he had plenty of reasonable reasons for that lack of production, Game 1 of 2021 was nothing more than a continuation of what we saw in 2020.
On Thursday night, a fit, rested and sleek Zeke had 11 carries for 33 yards.
Meanwhile, in Dak’s first game since he fractured his ankle on Oct. 11 of last year, he threw 58 passes.
That’s a good way to lose, and to get your QB killed, too.
In four of Dak’s last five starts, he has attempted 47, 57, 58 and now 58 passes.
If this is the way it’s going to be, and the Cowboys are just going to white flag the running game in the first quarter, there is no reason for him to be on this team.
The Cowboys would be better to go with Tony Pollard, and Guy Off Street Who Was Good In College And Is Here Because He’s Cheap.
The Cowboys would never do it, but if they value the running back like this they should trade Zeke to a team that desperately needs quality talent at that position.
A team like the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have not played a game, and have lost their top two running backs to season-ending leg injuries.
Zeke’s Game 1 stats would be semi-justifiable if the Cowboys fell behind by a large deficit and had no choice but to pass. However, that’s not what happened. They gave up on the run because they didn’t think they could.
Thursday’s list of excuses: Tampa’s run defense was one of the best in the league. The Cowboys didn’t have Zack Martin. It was humid.
At some point Zeke is a part of the reason why.
Last year he was stuck behind an offensive line that was beset with injuries, trying to run against defenses that loaded up on him because the starting quarterback was out for most of the year.
On Thursday, Zeke had his two starting tackles back as well as his starting quarterback, and it all looked the same.
Zack Martin is a great player, and yet he should not make that much of a difference for a player with Zeke’s stated talent.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and/or head coach Mike McCarthy, decided early in the first quarter that Zeke would not be a participant, other than serving as a blocker.
Don’t underestimate, or undervalue, Zeke’s ability as a blocker. He’s the best blocking running back in the NFL.
Also, the Cowboys didn’t cave in contract negotiations with Zeke two years ago and hand him a six-year, $90 million extension because he’s a quality blocker.
In the first half, Zeke had four carries for 12 yards, and one reception for three yards.
His longest play of the night came with a little more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter when he ripped off a 13-yard run.
One third quarter sequence was typical of Zeke’s night:
From the Bucs’ 5-yard line, Dak’s pass in the flat on second down to Zeke was good for three yards. Dak waited too long to throw it, and it was all Zeke could do to catch the ball in bounds.
On the next play, Dak’s pitch to Zeke from the Tampa 2 went for minus-1 yard. Tight end Blake Jarwin badly flubbed his block, but Zeke has to make his man miss, too.
This night came after a preseason where the head coach made it a priority for Zeke to do nothing more than hang out. Melatonin Mike was caught by HBO’s Hard Knocks cameras saying he didn’t want Zeke to do anything because of the workload he’s had in his first five NFL seasons.
Zeke’s defenders, coaches and teammates will insist it’s just one game. And they aren’t wrong.
But ever since he was made the highest-paid running back in the NFL, and given $50 million guaranteed, we have all wondered when the dreaded running back drop would happen.
Before the NBC telecast of Thursday night’s game, color analyst Chris Simms said of Elliott, “Big question mark. Not a good year last year. Is he going to bounce back [or] have we seen his best football?”
With running backs, it tends to happen overnight.
And it maybe Thursday was just an off night for their Pro Bowl running back, but it sure is starting to feel more like a trend.