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Spagnola: How About Keeping An Eye On Zeke

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FRISCO, Texas – Narratives are hard to stop.

Like wildfires, you know, and have seen my share of them, and also the results, out in Colorado. Once they start, man they become real-life monsters. They're hard to stop. Devastating.

And in this day and age, these narrative buy-ins become immense, no matter who is saying what, any self-research neglected. So the narratives, they spread and spread.

A man once told me perception becomes reality. Unfortunately, never truer than today.

Take this Ezekiel Elliott narrative that has recently exploded. That the fifth-year Cowboys running back is not the same. That he's washed up. That he's slow. Can't finish. Way overpaid. Cowboys hands are tied for the future.

Because that's what the numbers say after 13 games, "Zeke" gaining just 832 yards on 211 carries. Has scored just five touchdowns. Will likely finish with his fewest yards rushing when playing at least 15 games in a season. Has only one 100-yard game when he's had 20 over his previous four seasons.

The numbers say he's averaging 3.9 yards a carry, and if that number holds, will represent the lowest average of his career, more than a half-yard less than even last year's average. That's because he's only had two 20-yard runs in 13 games. Only two more carries from 15-19 yards.

Thus, "_We want Tony!"_ they scream. That's Tony Pollard. The backup, of course.

But you know what? Numbers are great. And get it. This is the age of analytics. They have become the blinding gospel. Unquestioned by many.

But sometimes numbers can deceive. They come with no depth. No common sense. They are for the anal.

But as our high school football coach would say the day after games, the film don't lie.

Neither will your eyes. That is, if there is a willingness to not only look, but to see.

My eyes tell me, in the infamous words of one Bill Parcells when talking about quarterbacks, Zeke is not out there playing singles, either. And sure wasn't out there playing singles his rookie year gaining 1,631 yards running behind the likes of Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free in 2016. That's why for Christmas he bought the big guys John Deere ATVs. He knows where his bread is buttered.

Not even doing some sort of Rafael Nadal impression last season, Zeke running for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns behind Smith, Connor Williams/Xavier Su'a-Filo, Frederick, Martin and Collins.

Does anyone really think these offensive linemen don't matter?

That you can put five stiffs out there, with any ol' quarterback or running back and the yards and touchdowns are a piece of cake? That this crazy notion of putting the team on your back really is possible, no matter what?

Can remember back to those lean Cowboys years of 1998-2000, the final years of Troy Aikman's career when, yes, the great future Hall of Famer was being criticized because he was making all that money yet he wasn't putting the Cowboys on his back.

Never mind that he only had Michael Irvin for the 1998 season and three games in 1999. Or one healthy season of Rocket Ismail during that span. Or that he had Joey Galloway for less than one game in 2000.

Or that he was otherwise throwing to the likes of Ernie Mills, Jason Tucker, Jeff Ogden, Wayne McGarity, James McKnight and them.

Good gosh, it's hard piling up big passing numbers when guys aren't getting open. As Gisele was caught saying in an elevator after the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants, defending husband Tommy, "My husband can't throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time."

Just like it's hard piling up big rushing numbers when running behind this:

· A backup undrafted rookie right tackle in 11 of the 13 games.

· An undrafted second-year tackle with one previous start last season backing up the presumed backup left tackle for six games.

· The veteran presumed backup left tackle basically missing all of training camp for five games.

· The backup center(s) for 13 games after Frederick decided to retire in the offseason.

· A second-year right guard playing his first NFL snaps this year for five games.

· And then losing your All-Pro right guard part of one game and then the following game with a concussion, before he was moved to right tackle where he lasted two games before landing on IR for these past two, and possibly for the remainder of the season.

Yeah, go sic 'em Zeke, who is being listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Niners at AT&T Stadium with a bruised calf keeping him out of practice all week, though leaving head coach Mike McCarthy hopeful he'll be able to play and owner Jerry Jones saying, "Absolutely … absolutely" Zeke will play.

See, those numbers don't tell you that part of the story, do they?

Nor do they point out that the Cowboys have played three quarterbacks once Dak Prescott went down for the season in Game 5. Naw, the numbers don't tell you that two of those guys, one a rookie coming in relief one game to throw his first NFL passes and the other who had completed just 2 of 6 passes over his only two years in the league, also accounting for two starts.

Like, let's be real. If you are an opposing defense and you are facing such inexperienced quarterbacks or backup quarterbacks, who you trying to stop? The pass or Zeke? A question not even needing an answer.

Or how about this: Those numbers don't tell you the Cowboys basically were giving up on the run when trailing games by 19, 15, 27, 28, 22, 12 with five minutes remaining and 17. No sir, there is no number to factor into those consequences.

Now, did Zeke fumble? Guilty as charged. Lost five of them. But a couple were born out of trying too hard to make something more out of very little.

Man, Zeke should be applauded for all the "dirty runs" out there, making three, four yards when seemingly only one or none was possible. Hard to get 10 when repeatedly trying to run through a brick wall.

Hasn't everyone seen this? Do you watch?

So now the favorite flavor at running back is Pollard. Got to see more of him. Yeah, you've seen the 20-yard run and the 42-yard run for a touchdown, good stuff. Good change of pace back. Yet, will he grind for those tough yards on the other 15 carries? Can he?

But if you like numbers, try these on for size: In the past three games, with that same offensive line struggling in front Zeke, "Flash" Pollard has gained 73 yards on 23 attempts running the ball. By my math, that's 3.2 a carry. A long of 17 vs. Cincinnati. Same game Zeke had his 26-yarder. No rushing touchdowns.

Pollard has totaled 339 yards on 75 carries for the season, 4.5 a carry. And hey, nothing against the second-year back who has shown improvement on those kickoff returns. Love his speed. Love his style. Be careful, though, assuming increased carries will create increased results. Sometimes diminishing returns set in with increased exposure.

And consider this, you numbers guys: If we take away that one 42-yard run, he then has 297 yards on those other 74 carries. Uh, 4.0 yards a carry to Zeke's 3.9 with runs no more than 26 yards.

As for Zeke, fist-bump the guy, not taking the bait to defend himself this week. Instead, he parries when asked about his performance by saying this about _the team_:

"It's been tough emotionally and mentally," Elliott said. "We didn't really know when we were going to start (the season). That was the start of it. You look at the injuries we had from La'el to Tyron to Dak. To Blake Jarwin. We got a lot of guys that were going to be starters for this team that aren't playing right now or ended up having season-ending injuries.

"We kind of just had to do what we can. But I mean, yeah, it's been tough."

Real tough under these circumstances running the ball.

And like Ringo singing about the blues, dem yards, you know they don't come easy.

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The Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their last home game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3:25 p.m. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!

Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.

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