FRISCO, Texas - As early as training camp Mike McCarthy has preached the importance of monitoring the workload of Ezekiel Elliott. The running back only knows how to go forward with power, and at 26, he's already put a lot of miles on his legs and taken quite a few hits from linebackers.
Select rest days for Elliott have been implemented by McCarthy's staff all season. The reasoning being that what Elliott provides--late-game first downs and the ability to control time of possession-- would be more valuable near the end of the season than the beginning.
That time is approaching, and while he has been forced to deal with a lingering knee issue for much of the season, his health, and the offense's run game seems to be improving as the playoffs near.
The last month has produced some disappointing results on the ground, which is likely the reason Elliott was not selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday despite being tied for second in the NFC in rushing yards with 862. But, the two-headed monster of Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 135 yards rushing and a touchdown last Sunday against the Giants.
"I think it's a little bit of everything," Elliott said of the improvement. "Feeling healthier, getting guys back, and playing better upfront. The offensive line has been working their tails off all year and it's shown."
Over the past two games Elliott has been wearing a brace on his knee that he will presumably continue to wear in games for the remainder of the season.
"The brace has helped me by giving me confidence and giving me more stability," Elliott said. He claimed that earlier in the season he would have to come out of games when hit near his injured knee because he felt it would get twisted as he was hitting the ground, but the brace prevents the joint from moving around.
During the first month of the season, the Cowboys had the best rushing offense in the NFL. That took a major drop off after the team's bye, but it's possible that the identity that gives the team its highest potential of winning a Super Bowl is defined by a dominant rushing attack by Elliott and Pollard.
"It's definitely going to be important for us to be able to run the ball well this last part of the season and going into the playoffs," Elliott said. "We've just got to lock in."
Ultimately, Elliott understands that the team has a shot at accomplishing something with an extremely small margin of error during very uncertain times. Elliott mentioned Wednesday that he was happy for the South Oak Cliff football team for winning a state championship, but that with the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, visiting with the team would be difficult before the playoffs.
"After the season I'll make sure to go down there and spend a little time with them."
Elliott said that in order to succeed in the postseason, they will need to replicate the level of play they reached earlier in the season and the team is operating on and off the field with awareness that they have to control what they can control.
"We need everyone here," Elliott said. "We need to start getting this thing back moving to how we had it earlier in the season. So we're going to need everybody back to do that."