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3 & Out

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3 & Out: "The Long Road" With Zeke & Tony Pollard


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the Cowboys (1-1) get set to begin a three-game, 28-day stretch at home:

  • Zeke & Tony Pollard
  • Quinn & Kellen
  • Jayron Kearse

I Know…
the Tony Pollard-Ezekiel Elliott carry distribution Sunday really shouldn't surprise anyone.

Head coach Mike McCarthy told us in training camp this was going to happen, at least in some games, for a couple reasons:

  1. Elliott's obviously the starter and the featured back – he played 44 snaps against the Chargers to Pollard's 21 snaps and had three more carries (16 to 13). But over the course of what's now a 17-game haul, the Cowboys want to be mindful of his career carry total: 1,413 entering this season, an average of 283 carries per year over his first five seasons.
  2. Pollard has special quickness and explosion, and with a 5.0-yard career rushing average, has proven to be a dynamic contributor in a complementary role. He delivered his third career 100-yard game Sunday.

This is McCarthy's quote from the second week of camp in Oxnard:

"I think at this point you've got to be conscientious of it because when you look at a player like Zeke, because of what he's done at the level, the volume he's done early in his years, I think you have to be cognizant of the long road. …. You have some younger guys that can play and produce. So, it's not necessary for Zeke to run the ball 25 times, 30 times a game. The most important thing is that when you get into December and January football, you want him to be in top form to be able to run the ball 25 to 30 times if needed. That's the way I've always viewed it, particularly at that position."

Look around the league, and you'll notice the Cowboys aren't the only team taking more of a two-back approach at times.

In the 32 regular-season games played so far, only nine running backs have logged at least 20 carries:

  • Christian McCaffrey (twice)
  • Joe Mixon (twice)
  • Dalvin Cook (twice)
  • Derrick Henry
  • Alvin Kamara
  • Mark Ingram
  • Antonio Gibson
  • David Montgomery
  • Damien Harris

Only two players have reached 25 carries: Mixon and Ingram (once each). And only Henry has topped 30 carries (35 in the Titans' win over Seattle).

Some want to bring salary into this discussion. Yes, Elliott signed a $90 million deal in 2019, the largest ever for a running back. But Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan that the team can't weigh contracts here when putting together a game plan. "You do what makes the first down, or you do what gets the most yards or ultimately wins the game," he said.

That's no knock on Elliott. Nobody is more supportive of Elliott's contributions than Jones.

Remember, Elliott was worn down by the end of last season, dealing with multiple injuries, as the Cowboys tried to patch together a healthy offensive line in front of him. This year the Cowboys are taking the "long road" with Elliott and Pollard, as McCarthy said, with an eye toward the stretch run.

"I see it as a great asset to this team," Jones said. "You don't have an issue."

I Think…
Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore flexed their coordinator muscles against the Chargers.

This is a players' game, so give the roster credit first for winning a tough matchup on the road. But "adjustments" is the biggest fan and media buzzword for NFL coaches through the course of a game – in a positive and negative context.

Quinn and Moore made the right adjustments Sunday.

First-round draft pick Micah Parsons hadn't rushed that much since Harrisburg High School, but Quinn decided the rookie linebacker could handle a mid-week switch to defensive end in his second career NFL game. Parsons did just that, helping replace starters DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) and Randy Gregory (COVID-19 protocols), and his production skyrocketed mid-game after Quinn moved him to the left side against Chargers swing tackle Storm Norton.

Without Parsons' sack and eight pressures on quarterback Justin Herbert, you can argue the Cowboys don't win that game.

On offense, Moore took a completely different approach from the opener against Tampa Bay. The Bucs stacked the box against Elliott. Fine. Dak Prescott tied a career high with 58 pass attempts, and the Cowboys had the lead in the final two minutes of a 31-29 loss.

Sunday, the Chargers mostly played coverage to limit big pass plays. Fine. Prescott had less than half of his Week 1 pass attempts (27) and handed the ball to Elliott and Pollard 29 times. The Cowboys piled up 198 rushing yards, their highest total since 2019.

"We feel that we can go the long way or the quick way," McCarthy said. "I thought Kellen called an excellent game. I thought he was very patient, and this was a game he needed to be patient."

It'll be interesting to see how opponents play the Cowboys moving forward. Much of it will depend on a defense's strengths, for sure. But will more teams concede some favorable boxes in the run game to slow Prescott, like the Chargers did?

Truth is, there's really no good solution when the Cowboys' offense is relatively healthy.

I Have No Idea…
how the Cowboys' safety rotation will sort out over the entire season, but Jayron Kearse has been a strong addition.

Safety Damontae Kazee's two takeaways against the Bucs and Chargers have probably made the biggest impact of all the Cowboys' free agent signings. Kearse got the defensive game ball

Sunday for a reason, though. He started at strong safety for Donovan Wilson (groin) and played 69 of 71 defensive snaps against the Chargers, second most on the team, posting six tackles (one for loss), a pass breakup and a pressure. A second-quarter interception on Herbert was wiped out by a pass interference penalty. (Debate that call if you like.)

"I thought he was all over the field, No. 1," McCarthy said. "I loved his play style, his intensity, his production. He had the interception, in my view, that was a tough call to see that go against him. I thought he was in really good coverage on Jared Cook, played him outside leverage there. The utilization of him in matchups has been a real asset for us. Just love the way he played, both in the run and the pass."

Through two games, Kearse ranks second on defense with 15 tackles. He also leads the special teams with 2 stops. And as McCarthy referenced, Kearse (6-4, 222) can play anywhere on the field: box, deep, over tight ends or in the slot. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Kearse played both safety spots against the Chargers as part of the Cowboys' "big nickel" package featuring three safeties.

"He's always had a history of being able to guard tight ends," Quinn said. "But I think you saw the physicality in the blitzing and the tackling. I thought that was a really impactful part of our game."

Kearse was a core special teams player in his first five seasons with the Vikings and Lions, but he also started 12 games at safety. Between Kearse, Kazee, Wilson and Hooker, the Cowboys feel good about their depth and flexibility at the position.

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