Spagnola: Answers To The Beauty Of Double-E Certainly Buried In Paydirt

IRVING, Texas – With the NFL Draft behind us and the new gang here at The Ranch this weekend for the three-day rookie minicamp, thought this a good time to give a little quiz. Nothing like the Wonderlic Test. Not even the SAT.

         We'll call this the CAT, Cowboys Aptitude Test, one going a long way to promote common sense when analyzing this Cowboys draft, especially that very first pick seemingly creating some derisive evaluations.

         OK, here we go:

         How many points did the Cowboys score in 2014, that 12-4, playoff season?

         Answer: 467, or 29.2 a game.

         How many points did the Cowboys score in 2015?

         Answer: 275, or 17.2 a game.

         My gosh, that's 192 points and 12 a game less.

         OK, how many points did the Cowboys give up in 2014, the about-face 4-12 season?

         Answer: 352, or 22 a game.

         Now how many points did the Cowboys give up in 2015?

         Answer: 374, or 23.4 a game.

         Seriously now, only 22 points and 1.4 more a game.

         Still with me?

         Now then, how many touchdowns did the Cowboys score in 2014?

         Answer: 53.

         How many touchdowns did the Cowboys score in 2015?

         Answer: 24, a whopping 29 less.

         Hmmmm.

         And now this: How many touchdowns did the Cowboys run for in 2014?

         Answer: 16, DeMarco Murray leading the way with 13.

         So how many touchdowns do you think the Cowboys rushed for in 2015?

         Answer: EIGHT, or eight fewer, keeping my very precious stat in tack that says the Cowboys have never had a winning season when rushing for no more than 10 touchdowns. Never, ever, oh-for-13 now.

         In fact, if you add together the total rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, you get 24. Have mercy on them, Emmitt Smith set the franchise single-season record for rushing touchdowns in 1995 (at the time, the NFL record, too) with 25.

         You get where I'm going here?

         Don't tell me – do not – that selecting Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in the 2016 draft was a waste of the Cowboys time. Don't do it. Don't mention that with this offensive line Dallas would be good enough with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. And if I hear or read one more time that the Cowboys could have gotten a running back in the fourth round I'm going to pull out what little hair I have left.

         These people can't be serious, can they?

         Crazy more like it, and not trying to be rude to anyone, but just want them to be reasonable and see the error of their thinking.

         Sure, the Cowboys defense needs to improve, absolutely. But 4-12 was not all about the defense, as you can see in black and white with these numbers. They need Tony Romo back and healthy. They need Dez Bryant back and healthy.

         And they need Ezekiel Elliott. Bad.

         So here Jason Garrett was on Friday, ticking off all the qualities Double-E brings to the table: running ability, speed, quickness, physical, blocks, catches the ball. Right on. But he left out one key ability, maybe the biggest.

         Ezekiel Elliott runs the ball into the end zone.

         He scores touchdowns.

         Yeah, I commend what McFadden did for the Cowboys running the ball last year, gaining 1,089 yards in just 10 starts. Maybe we suffer with out-of-sight, out-of- mind infliction, but do you remember what Cowboys player led the team in rushing touchdowns last year? That would be Joe Randle with four in just six games. McFadden had three.

         Why, in the Cowboys single-season annals of those with the fewest rushing touchdowns to lead the team, Randle's four would match the leader's fewest since Murray had two in 2011. And those two tied the franchise lows first set in 1965 by Dan Reeves, J.D. Smith and Don Meredith with two apiece in a 14-game season, and then matched again in 1989 by Darryl Clack and Paul Palmer in the 1-15 season. And in only two others seasons did the leader have only three rushing touchdowns: L.G. Dupre in the 12-game 1960 season and the three Emmitt had in the 5-11 2001 season.

          Oh, but this Ezekiel Elliott. If his Ohio State stats are even a small indication of things to come, he'll be leaving here known as TD Zeke. In 2014, his first year to be the fulltime starter at Ohio State as a sophomore, Elliott ran for 18 touchdowns in 15 games, leading the Buckeyes to the national championship. In the final three games alone, meaning the Big Ten title game vs. Wisconsin, the National Championship semifinal game vs. Alabama and the National Championship game vs. Oregon played at AT&T Stadium, Elliott rushed for 696 yards and eight touchdowns – basically in three games equally the Cowboys rushing touchdown total of this past season.

         All causing Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to proclaim, "He is the most underrated back in America." No one would have argued if he said the world.

         And this past season, Elliott hit paydirt running the ball 23 times in just 13 games, including four in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Notre Dame.

         You guys still with me on all this?

         I mean, of the Cowboys' eight rushing touchdowns last year, only one was from farther out than seven yards, that being Randle's 37-yarder vs. Atlanta. Only three then were from more than two yards out, that one, McFadden's six-yarder and Robert Turbin's seven-yarder.[embeddedad0]

         But get this: In that 2014 season's semi against Alabama, Zeke had an 85-yard TD run. In the championship game against Oregon, he had a 33-yarder and a nine-yarder. Then in 2015, Elliott was tied for first in the FBS with six runs of at least 50 yards, three of those for touchdowns … in one *half, *the only FBS player in the past 10 years to turn that trick.

During his three-year career at Ohio State, Elliott had 12 runs of at least 50 yards and is the only Buckeyes player to have three runs of at least 80 yards.

Got any of that in the fourth round?

         Got any of that other than him on this Cowboys team?

         "In high school he ran for a bunch of touchdowns," Cowboys running backs coach Garry Brown said. "At Ohio State he ran for a bunch of touchdowns. And there are people who don't understand how special he is. This kid is a difference-maker."

         We ain't talkin' just yards here or time of possession. We are talkin' touchdowns!

         And whatever you do, please don't compare him to DeMarco Murray. DeMarco Murray ain't no Ezekiel Elliott, and out of character of me to say so of a guy who has yet to gain one yard in the NFL. And I know Murray gave the Cowboys that 1,845-yard season in 2014, but teams were never afraid of Murray threatening the backend of their defenses. He didn't have the moves. He didn't have the speed.

         Of Murray's 13 rushing touchdowns in 2014, 10 of those were for no more than three yards, and seven for no more than one yard.

         I'm just sayin'.

         So if track record means anything, Ezekiel seems to have this knack for not only scoring touchdowns, but scoring also from afar.

         "He sure got in the end zone," Garrett said.

         Just an innate knack?

         "Oh yes," the head coach said, arching his eyebrows.

         So we'll see, and count Brown as one who just can't wait.

         Yards, smards. Time of possession is but a cliché. So is defense wins championships.

         Ah, but for those who aced my little CAT, they thoroughly understand now that touchdowns do matter.

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