Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott suggested critics of his 33-yard rushing performance in the team's Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should take a closer look at the game tape.
"If you know football, then you can tell someone had a solid game without having the best statistics," Elliott told reporters Wednesday. "I feel if you're saying that, maybe they should be studying a little bit more."
The two-time NFL rushing champion finished the game with just 13 touches (11 carries and two catches), while the Cowboys leaned heavily on quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw 58 passes in the 31-29 defeat.
"I had a lot of blitz pickup," Elliott said.
The 26-year-old Ohio State product was a victim of the game's flow in Week 1. The Cowboys found themselves throwing on virtually every down in an effort to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Bucs.
Elliott didn't make a major impact when he did get opportunities, averaging just three yards per carry, but he's always been a rusher who can wear a defense down when given consistent touches. Throughout his career, his best quarter statistically on a per-carry basis is the third (4.7 YPC).
The three-time Pro Bowler is also accustomed to a heavy workload. His 1,667 touches since his rookie season in 2016 are 214 more than any other player over the past five-plus seasons (Todd Gurley is second at 1,453), per StatMuse.
So if Elliott is going to make his maximum impact, he's going to likely need somewhere close to 20 touches and plenty of work in the second half when the defense has started to wear down. That type of slow-burn game plan didn't materialize against the Bucs.
Nevertheless, his underwhelming baseline numbers led to further criticism of the six-year, $90 million contract extension he received from the Cowboys in 2019.
Elliott explained he's hopeful Prescott's success against the Bucs coming off an ankle injury will force opponents into a more pass-oriented defensive approach, which could create more chances for him to see the type of carry totals he did earlier in his career.
"It wears the defense down," he told reporters. "Playing the run is tough. It's more physical. It's hard to play the run for four quarters. But last week, just, their whole plan was around not letting us run the football and making us throw the ball. I mean, it showed."
Perhaps the game flow will fall more in his direction in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers, who allowed Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson to rush for 90 yards on 20 carries (4.5 YPC) in the opener.
Dallas has too much talent in the passing game, with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb headlining the targets for Prescott, to become a run-dominant offense. That said, they need to find ways to get Elliott more involved on a drive-by-drive basis to provide at least some semblance of balance offensively.
It's a task that should become easier with Prescott trending back toward full strength, which should lead to less stacked boxes and more run-friendly looks for Elliott to capitalize on.