This is what happens when the defending NFL rushing champion has, for the most part, been shut down.
The questions — some legit, some ridiculous — come fast and furious as everybody searches for an explanation for why Elliott has appeared ordinary this season.
Ezekiel Elliott ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing with 192 yards and tied for 26th with 3.5 yards per carry, while ranking fourth with 55 carries. The man who led the NFL in runs of 10 yards or more and 20 yards or more last season has three good for 23rd in the NFL.
Not good enough. We all know that. Heck, the Cowboys know that, and they’ll tell you that.
“We felt like there were going to be some growing pains,” play-caller Scott Linehan said. “Losing the two guys we lost, you don’t replace them with the same veteran experience.
“The only way these guys are going to get better is to go out and play these games.”
So who’s to blame?
Is it left guard Chaz Green and right tackle La’El Collins, who joined the starting lineup this season? What about Linehan for not staying committed to the run against Denver?
Or has Elliott picked up some weight, making him slower and less elusive than he was last year?
Yes and no.
According to a team source, Elliott weighed 226 pounds Thursday, one more than the 225 he was listed at last season when he was so dynamic. The source said Elliott has not weighed more than 230 pounds at any time this season.
His explosiveness remains the same. After all, he’s 22.
It’s hard to show speed and acceleration, when you’re constantly getting hit in the backfield. He’s been dropped for a loss six times and limited to one or zero yards on 13 other carries.
There’s a reason Elliott ranks second in the NFL with 115 yards after contact.
Still, it’s not like the little bit of extra weight stopped him from making a defender miss of slashing through a hole. If anything, it might slow him down a little in the fourth quarter when he’s been worn down a little.
Then again, some folks think he should’ve scored on his 30-yard run against the Cardinals. This is an exchange he had with a reporter Thursday.
Reporter on Zeke’s 30-yard run: “There are some people saying that’s a play last year you take to the house. They say you’re a half-step slower. The people that are saying that what’s your response?
Ezekiel Elliott: “Shut up.”
Reporter: “You don’t feel like you’re any slower?”
Ezekiel Elliott: “No.”
Any discussion of Elliott’s weight reminds me of a conversation I once had with former receiver Keyshawn Johnson in the Cowboys’ locker room.
He always played at 212 because he felt fast and quick and he could get in and out of his breaks faster and smoother than he could at 213 or 214 pounds. The point: For an elite athlete, three or four pounds can matter every bit as the difference between a running back who runs 4.41 and 4.49 at the combine.
Elliott started slowly last season, gaining 51 yards on 20 carries in the opener against the New York Giants and then getting benched in the fourth quarter against Washington after fumbling twice.
Then he found a rhythm in the offense and broke off four straight games of more than 130 yards during his record-breaking rookie season.
St. Louis’ run defense is ranked 29th against the run, yielding 139.0 yards per game and 22nd in yards per carry at 4.34. Washington ran for 229 yards on 39 carries and San Francisco gained 133 yards, but needed 33 carries.
A big game and folks will be back to talking about his plays — not whether he’s overweight.
“I don't think it affects you,” Elliott said of carrying an extra couple of pounds. “It’s something for people to talk about."
“To me, it’s more about discipline. They want you to be at a certain weight so you need to do what it takes to get there.”