During Ezekiel Elliott's National Championship season in 2014, the Ohio State Buckeyes went through three separate quarterbacks; Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones.
"That was a little different," Elliott remembered on Wednesday. "[This is my] first time working with four."
Whether or not the Cowboys go with Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert to face the Steelers on Sunday, then Elliott will officially take a handoff from his fourth quarterback of the season. There's no question that the step down in abilities from Dak Prescott has been drastic.
But Elliott's Ohio State team clearly didn't show any struggles with continuity in their offense. What carried that team through their quarterback changes? Well, the complete dominance of Elliott at running back. In the final three games he played in college Elliott rushed for a combined 696 yards.
Elliott has 521 rushing yards in eight games this season. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the Cowboys' record reflects how little production they are getting from a source the offense has invested so much of their success into.
With the quarterback and offensive line situations being marred by injuries the burden on Elliott to produce is high. But on Wednesday, he insisted that it won't be a focus on highlight plays that helps him and the Cowboys get back on track. Instead, it will be about, "not trying to do too much. Staying disciplined to my reads and landmarks. Just have a chop-wood mentality; just chip away."
It will be a tall tree they're hoping to chop down this Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-0 and the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said on Wednesday that it was "common sense" to assume that Elliott would be heavily involved in the Cowboys' offensive plans. He was obviously referring to the Cowboys' misfortune at quarterback, but he's also seen firsthand what Elliott is capable of at his best.
In 2016, the Cowboys defeated Pittsburgh 35-30 behind a thrilling performance from their running back. Elliott rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning run in the final minute, and added on 95 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.
"It does kind of seem like it was forever ago," Elliott said amid the nightmare of this current season. "That was definitely one of my favorite games as a Cowboy up unto this point."
Elliott's past performances in college or the NFL aren't helping the Cowboys in 2020, but to his credit, he has yet to make excuses for himself or his team this season, constantly preaching the "next man up" mentality. When it was suggested that Dallas "might" have a chance to defeat the Steelers on Sunday Elliott took issue with the wording. "We do have a chance to win this ball game."
The early season narrative was frustration with the defense. Opponents were scoring early and often, forcing Prescott and his weapons to play catch-up. Last Sunday the defense managed to force turnovers and maintain slight and temporary leads over the Eagles, but the offense couldn't capitalize. Even so, Elliott said the defensive improvement was a spark in moral for an offense whose luck has been disastrous since Week 1.
"When they're out there taking the ball away and giving us great field position it does give you hope."
Hope is all the Cowboys can ask for at this point. Elliott has no choice but to keep chopping. He's just going to have to chop a little bit faster if fans are going to share in any of that hope.