Phillips: Elliott's Value To Cowboys Goes Well Beyond Rookie Record Chase

FRISCO, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott would need a season-best 178 rushing yards in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles to break Eric Dickerson's 33-year-old rookie record.

For approximately the 178th time since Week 1, Elliott was asked Wednesday about his chances.

"I'm not really focused on it," he said.

Why not?

"Like I've said, I've learned through experience that you don't focus on that," he said. "You focus on going out there and winning ballgames and good things happen. Good things come with that."

It remains to be seen how much Elliott and some of the starters will play with home-field advantage clinched in the upcoming playoffs. If it's a legitimate discussion point, head coach Jason Garrett isn't tipping his hand. He wants the Cowboys (13-2) focused on the Eagles this Sunday, not on their undetermined divisional-round matchup the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

As for Elliott, the rookie rushing title would cement a strong résumé for NFL MVP. Even with a full-game workload, 178 yards is a tall task against Philly's strong defense.

But he doesn't need to break a Hall of Famer's prolific record to demonstrate his impact on the Cowboys' offense.

For those who questioned Dallas for spending the fourth overall draft pick on a running back – a so-called devalued position in recent years – Elliott has been every bit as good as advertised.

He has star power, for sure. His #KettleHop sparked a nationwide surge in The Salvation Army donations. He's hurdled defenders like it's the Rio Olympics. He's popularized the "Feed Me" celebration across the sports landscape.

Beneath the flash and creativity is a durable, versatile and diligent worker who has restored the power running game as a primary part of this offense's identity.

The Cowboys envisioned Elliott in the featured role DeMarco Murray filled before leaving via free agency after the 2014 season. Aided by Murray's 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns, the offense controlled the line of scrimmage and time of possession (32:22 to 27:38), won 12 games and reached the divisional round that year.

This year Elliott has played nearly 75 percent of the Cowboys' offensive snaps. Here are his contributions to the league's fourth-ranked offense:

  • His league-best 1,631 rushing yards are more than any NFL player gained all of last season.
  • He has 15 of the Cowboys' second-ranked 24 rushing touchdowns, tripling last year's total of eight.
  • The Cowboys lead the league in time of possession (32:10 to 27:50) while also ranking third in the league in scoring efficiency, getting points on 45.3 percent of their drives.
  • The Cowboys rank first in drives of five or more minutes (35) and have scored on 30 of them, also best in the league.
  • The Cowboys lead the league with 70 runs of 10 or more yards. Elliott has 49 of them.

He acknowledged last week that the rookie record would be "special." He also said this team has bigger goals in mind.

The Cowboys have positioned themselves for a possible deep playoff run. Elliott has been a major reason why – rookie rushing record or not.

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