SANTA CLARA, Calif. – All of a sudden, that early-season concern about Ezekiel Elliott seems to be fading into the background.
For the second-straight game, the Cowboys' rookie running back made his mark on a winning effort, as his physical running style set the tone in the Cowboys' 24-17 win against the 49ers.
Elliott ripped off 138 rushing yards on the afternoon, falling just two yards short of his output last week against Chicago. But unlike last week, when he needed 30 carries to reach that tally, the rookie did it on just 23 touches this time around – gashing the San Francisco defense for six yards per carry.
"I felt like the offense was rolling. I'm really falling into place in the offense," Elliott said. "I'm getting used to the run schemes. Honestly, I just want to focus on getting into the film room and getting better."
Improvement seems to be the name of Elliott's game to this point in the season. In his regular season debut, he struggled to just 51 yards on 20 carries against the Giants. A week later, he upped the total to 83 yards – but he lost a costly fumble to Washington.
In the two weeks since, it's been a steady climb. It's funny to remember that just two weeks ago, critics were calling for Elliott to sit behind veteran Alfred Morris, who has looked comfortable in his brief stints on the field.
Now, following his fourth NFL game, Elliott currently sits atop the stat sheet as the league's leading rusher with 412 yards. His one-yard touchdown plunge was also his third of the season.
So, with 25 percent of the season played, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is on pace for 1,648 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. That's not even including his modest contributions to the passing game, with six receptions for 44 yards to this point – highlighted by a 19-yard gain against San Francisco.
"I'm just working on being consistent with my pace, my landmarks and my reads," Elliott said. "I came from a spread offense that's a little bit different. I wasn't really used to running from under center. It took me a while to get used to it and get comfortable."
[embeddedad0]It has to be encouraging for the Cowboys that Elliott's abilities are playing right into their blueprint, as well. For the second-straight week, Dallas pounded against their opposition in the first half, only for that to give way to larger gains in the second.
Elliott did not have a carry go farther than nine yards in the first two quarters. After halftime, he dashed through the San Francisco defense for gains of 23, 17 and 26 – not to mention the one-yard touchdown run.
"That's how it is. Those runs that are dirty or tough are in the first half," Elliott said. "As the game goes on, the other team gets tired and fatigued and that's when the big ones pop off."
Those were the types of runs that weren't popping in Elliott's first two games – especially the season-opening loss to New York, where his longest run of the day was just eight yards.
"He's very talented," said Zack Martin. "If we can get him covered up front, he's going to make some plays. He was awesome today."
With a full month under his belt, it seems safe to say Elliott is finding that running room. What's more impressive is that he's doing it without Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in the lineup – which makes the weeks to come all the more enticing.