The word loomed over the Cowboys' offense all week long:
After Dak Prescott threw a career-high 58 pass attempts in a wild season opener on Sept. 9, would Ezekiel Elliott and the running game eat Sunday against the Chargers?
The answer turned out to be a resounding yes.
For Elliott and Tony Pollard.
The Cowboys running backs combined for 29 carries for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns in a thrilling 20-17 win over the Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
For Elliott (16 for 71, 1 TD), it was a return to a more normal workload after carrying the ball just 11 times for 33 yards in the Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay.
For Pollard (13 for 109, 1 TD), it was the second-highest rushing total of his career and his third career 100-yard performance.
The third-year veteran out of Memphis has been an explosive change-of-pace back since joining the Cowboys as a fourth-round pick in 2019. Sunday, he consistently found daylight running behind the offensive line – especially six-time Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin in his return from COVID-19 protocol.
"T.P., he ran his tail off today," Elliott said. "He's a great back, all-around, can catch it and run it. He's smaller but he runs hard, breaks a lot of tackles. He had a hell of a day. I'm proud of him."
Elliott and Pollard weren't heavily featured against the Bucs' veteran defensive front. Tampa Bay loaded the box, so Prescott and Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore focused on single-coverage matchups in the passing game against the Super Bowl champs.
The plan almost worked. The Cowboys had the lead in the final two minutes but lost on a last-second field goal.
Elliott showed off his versatility in that game, making several key plays as a pass protector.
And with more favorable looks from the Chargers on Sunday, Moore and the offense got back to their weekly goal of combining the run and pass.
"We wanted to get the run game going," head coach Mike McCarthy said, "to hopefully get some play-action pass off that. We didn't get to a lot of things we hoped to get to, but give their defensive front some credit. They do a good job of rolling the personnel groups in there. I thought the chess match, Kellen did a heck of a job calling the game."
The Cowboys have talked about the importance of keeping Elliott, a two-time NFL rushing champ, fresh over the course of the season. That could mean a larger role for Pollard as the backup.
Sunday, he delivered.
"We just wanted to go with who's hot," Pollard said. "We both feed off each other. If he was hot, we would have went that way. It just turned out this way."