What’s the what with Ezekiel Elliott?
Rumors of domestic violence investigation keep Cowboys on edge
Jerry Jones wanted to go there. And he couldn’t have been clearer. Yeah, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner heard about a report that star rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott could face a lengthy suspension for alleged violations of the NFL’s personal code of conduct. But Jones said it’s not happening.
“People that have a lot more information than I have have given him a total clean bill of health,” Jones said Sunday night after the Cowboys’ 29-23 victory in overtime over the Philadelphia Eagles. “The real information that anybody has is that he doesn’t have an issue.”
Or at least Jones certainly hopes so.
One-half of the Cowboys’ dynamic rookie duo (quarterback Dak Prescott is his dope backfield partner), Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing. His lit performance has reinvigorated Dallas’ running game and provided the foundation for the NFC East leader’s six-game winning streak. Elliott has been so sensational, it’s unfathomable – or for the team and its fans, downright horrific – to imagine the Cowboys’ offense having to operate without him, even briefly.
The fact is, though, despite Jones’ strong words, there’s still a lot of chatter surrounding Elliott and accusations of domestic violence. Back in the summer, a woman in Ohio made allegations against the former Ohio State Buckeyes All-American. No charges were filed by the city attorney’s office in Columbus, Ohio, which determined after an investigation that there was too much conflicting and inconsistent information and insufficient evidence to move forward.
That established, under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, the league can still enforce punishment against players in such situations even without legal charges. And considering that the NFL continues to botch the handling of domestic violence in its ranks – could the New York Giants and the league office have been more tone-deaf with this Josh Brown mess? – the league had better be especially diligent in investigating all claims in this and all environments.
Off the field, we don’t yet know where things are headed with Elliott. On it, he’s in a great place.
While helping the Cowboys rally to Sunday’s victory over the Eagles, Elliott rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries. That’s a legit outing for most lead backs. By Elliott’s standards, it was only a so-so game.
Over his previous four games, Elliott rushed for at least 130 yards each week. That marked the first time a rookie back had accomplished such a feat in league history.
Elliott tops all rushers with 799 yards. He’s also averaging an impressive 5.0 yards per carry and has rushed for five touchdowns. A sure-handed receiver out of the backfield, Elliott has 15 receptions for 150 yards. Before the halfway point of the Cowboys’ schedule, Elliott has already more than justified the No. 4 overall pick the team used to draft him.
Early on, Cowboys fans had doubts.
In a season-opening loss to the Giants, Elliott gained only 51 yards on 20 carries. A slight uptick in Elliott’s production (83 yards on 21 rushes) in the following week’s victory over the Washington Redskins did nothing to allay fans’ concerns.
Many emailed reporters who cover the team regularly, demanding to know why backup Alfred Morris wasn’t getting more carries. After only two games, there was growing buzz in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that Elliott was a bust. That’s just the way some Boys fans roll.
Elliott won’t lie: It was hard. His teammates propped him up.
“After Week 1, Week 2, no one lost their faith in me,” Elliott said. “Having that camaraderie, having that faith and trust within these walls, when you didn’t necessarily feel it from outside, helped.
“Just going to work every day, knowing that you’re going to work with guys that believe in you, that matters. Going to work for guys that believe in you, and guys that you want to perform for, it matters.”
The Cowboys’ offensive line was all in from the draft.
Running behind a group considered second to none in the league in 2014, DeMarco Murray set a single-season franchise record of 1,845 yards. Then he bolted in free agency.
To management’s surprise, the running game completely fell off. As it turned out, the Cowboys couldn’t simply plug in any back. Elliott definitely just isn’t any back, Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick said.
“As an offensive line, what we try and do is improve each and every week, and you can see he’s done the same,” Frederick said. “Trying to make sure he’s making the right cuts, making the right reads and working with everybody around him to get better. For him, I don’t think it’s about him at all. He really is focused on the team.”
Elliott is also down for doing the so-called “little things.” He takes pride in blitz pickup and remains as locked in on passing plays as he does when he’s carrying the rock. Head coach Jason Garrett sees a great player who’s on the rise.
“He’s got a demeanor and toughness that’s really good for our football team,” Garrett said. “You talk about controlling the line of scrimmage with your offensive and defensive lines. When you hand the ball to the runner and he’s always falling forward and making it hard for those guys to tackle, that’s a good thing for your team. He does that every time.”
Nothing energizes an offensive line more than a great, hardworking back. The Cowboys have had many, including Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. Although Elliott is just starting out, he shares something in common with the franchise’s greatest backs: He’ll bring out the best in his blockers all season, former longtime offensive lineman Derrick Dockery said.
Dockery spent the final two seasons of his 10-year career with Dallas and continues to follow the team closely. He’s confident Elliott is providing “an exhilarating feeling” for the linemen. “When you have a running back who’s successful, when you have a running back who’s making plays because of your blocking up front, it’s an exciting feeling.
“A great running back and a great offensive line complement each other. When you look at Ezekiel Elliott, he’s a running back who has the requisite attributes to be a great running back in the National Football League. He’s able to accentuate the offensive line play and vice versa, and it can be great for them for a while.”
Elliott and the Cowboys are having a blast. At this point, it seems only the commissioner’s office could shut down the party.