Ezekiel Elliott's message to his teammates Monday night after he and the team's dismal performances against the Cardinals included an apology and a promise. The apology, in his mind, was necessary for him and the team to move forward.
"I just wanted to let them know how terrible I felt," Elliott said of his locker room message after the loss. "I'm supposed to be a guy this team can rely on and lean on when things get rough."
Things certainly got rough in their 38-10 loss to Arizona, and while there was more than enough blame to go around, Elliott's two first half fumbles didn't do the Cowboys any favors. Even more alarmingly is the fact that, amid the Cowboys' early season struggles, the running back now has five fumbles in six games. No one doubts that Elliott is a dangerous running back, but the argument can be made that in 2020 he's been a greater liability to his own team.
Fumbles are a quirky stat. Sometimes it's a mere matter of bad luck. Sometimes it's careless ball security. And once something happens enough times, just like with anything in sports, it can become a mental issue.
Elliott told the media on Wednesday that he's addressing the issue this week by going into the film room and watching footage of every fumble in his career, perhaps looking for issues that he was getting away with earlier in his career which are now catching up to him.
"That's what I've been doing this week, just studying my fumbles and seeing what I've done wrong and what I could be doing to keep the ball tighter and have better ball security," Elliott said.
Elliott was obviously reluctant to publicly say what he found in that film and give any extra tips to the Washington defense this week, but claimed that it's not really one specific thing and that he ultimately has to stop putting himself in vulnerable positions.
An improvement in Elliott's production and ball security won't solve the problems of the defense. It won't heal the offensive line. And it won't turn Andy Dalton into Dak Prescott. But it would give the Cowboys a leader to follow. Prescott was the compass that the entire roster looked towards to believe they could overcome any deficit, and most importantly he led by example. Elliott said that he knows he has to expand his leadership role with Prescott sidelined for the rest of the season.
"I think I do a little bit, just because Dak carries so much of that role," Elliott said. "That has to be filled."
That leadership starts with accountability. His apology to his teammates Monday night checked that box. But it ends with production, and the promise he made after his apology more than hinted towards results.
"I promised that I'm going to turn things around for this team," he said.
Elliott will have to run behind a battered offensive line consisting largely of backup players. Defenses won't be worried about the threat Prescott used to impose on them. And the defense will likely keep giving up points. But Elliott's promise is based on one crucial fact that he pointed out on Wednesday.
"We're still first in our division," Elliott stated. "We still hold the keys to our future."