ARLINGTON, Texas– Three decorated years at Ohio State made Ezekiel Elliott the fourth pick in the draft, but to pass the 100-yard mark for the first time as a pro on Sunday, the Cowboys' rookie running back channeled his high school track and field days running the 110-meter hurdles.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Elliott burst off the right edge and leapfrogged Chicago Bears safety Chris Prosinski for a 14-yard gain.
"Whenever you get a DB in the open field with that much space, he's definitely going to want to cut tackle," Elliott said, "so you know, I thought I might have to pull the hurdle out."
Not only was it an electrifying, momentum-shifting run – seven plays later the Cowboys scored a touchdown to take a commanding three-touchdown lead in an eventual 31-17 victory at AT&T Stadium – it demonstrated Elliott's increasing comfort level as the team's featured back.
He had 30 carries for 140 yards (4.7 average), easily the most of his young career, and ran eight straight times for 24 yards on the final two drives to help the Cowboys run out the clock.
In his first two games, Elliott rushed 41 times for 134 yards (3.3 average) with two touchdowns.
"I think I'm just settling in," Elliott said. "I'm settling into this offense. I'm setting into this system. It's a little different playing under center than when you come from a school where you play in the (shot)gun the whole time. It took a little bit of time, but all it took was hard work and going to work every week, not really getting down on yourself. The guys around me continued to pick me up even when we weren't getting the results we expected and that we wanted. It was a great team effort."
Elliott's 30 carries were the most by a Cowboys running back in a single game since 2014. Clearly, the team had no reservations about handing the ball to its first-round pick early and often despite his two fumbles (one lost) in a Week 2 victory over the Washington Redskins.
"It just shows the confidence that this club has in me," Elliott said. "Coming off a game where I had two fumbles and ball security was a question, even though I've never really had any history of fumbling the ball. But I put the ball on the ground two times. For the entire club – the coaching staff, the GM, the owner, my teammates – to have that confidence in me that I can go out there and get the job done, it's great."
Elliott didn't reach the end zone Sunday, but three others did: quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow running backs Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar. Their three rushing touchdowns increased the Cowboys' early-season total to seven; the team had eight for the entire 2015 season.[embeddedad0]
Elliott had nearly three-fourths of the rushing workload Sunday, though, making decisive cuts and converting difficult short-yardage runs.
"That's probably one of the reasons we drafted him – the mental toughness he has, the physical toughness that he has – he's gotten better and better every week," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Made a lot of good runs tonight, a lot of tough runs, a lot of NFL runs. He's finishing forward a lot. Again, he's physically tough, he's mentally tough, I thought he had a good evening for us."