Feeding Ezekiel Elliott is Leading to Wins

What's the use of having a 6-0, 225-pound, 23-year-old running back if you're not going to force feed him the ball?

Once again, Ezekiel Elliott is the epicenter of the Cowboys' offense — and they'll need him Sunday to win over Philadelphia just like he did last month.

Elliott, who scored touchdowns rushing and receiving, gained 151 yards on 19 carries and caught six passes for 36 yards in a 27-20 victory. A victory Sunday against Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium would virtually clinch the NFC East title.

It's not that the Cowboys weren't using Elliott or getting him the ball when they started the season 3-4, it's that they weren't getting him the ball enough.

You can blame some of that on the Cowboys playing from behind in losses to Carolina (16-0), Seattle (17-3) and Washington (20-10). You can assign the rest of the blame to coach Jason Garrett and play-caller Scott Linehan for not ensuring Elliott had the ball as much as possible.

After all, what's the use of having a 6-0, 225-pound, 23-year-old running back if you're not going to force feed him the ball?

Elliott or Cole Beasley? Elliott or Michael Gallup? Elliott or Allen Hurns? Elliott or Tavon Austin? Elliott or any of the tight ends? Elliott or Rod Smith?

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says his team is starting to taste "the red meat of success" going into the December stretch run. NBC 5 Sports Director Newy Scruggs and Cowboys Insider Jean-Jacques Taylor examine how Dallas' four-game winning streak is reminding fans of the 2016 season.

See, it's not really complicated. Get the ball to your best player and it's hard to get criticized.

In the Cowboys' first seven games, Elliott averaged 18.9 carries per game, while carrying the ball 20 times in a game just three times; Dallas won two of those games.

Understand, Elliott averaged 22.5 carries per game in his first two seasons and carried the ball more than 20 times in 21 of his first 25 games - and he only played a half in one of the four games he didn't reach 20 carries.

After dropping to 3-5 following a 28-14 loss to Tennessee, Linehan decided to make Elliott the focal point of the offense again.

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In the Cowboys' first seven games, Elliott averaged 24 touches for 113.4 yards. In the last five games, he's averaged 27.2 touches and 154.6 yards.

While he's getting more carries, Linehan is finally using Elliott in the passing game the way he talked about doing in training camp.

Elliott caught six passes for 60 yards and the Cowboys' only touchdown in a 13-10 win over the New Orleans Saints, ending their 10-game winning streak.

In the last five games, Elliott has caught 28 of 32 passes for 248 yards. Among running backs, he trails only Carolina's Christian McCaffrey and Chicago's Tarik Cohen, two players paid to be difference-makers as pass-catchers.

In the first seven games, Elliott ranked 11th among running backs in targets (36), 14th in receptions (25) and 18th in yards (175).

The key is to get the ball in his hands, and it doesn't matter all that much whether it's as a runner or a receiver.

Elliott is an option on every route, but early in the season Dak Prescott used him more as a check-down receiver, a place to deliver the ball when everyone else was covered.

Lately, he's been more of a priority. He's averaging 28.7 touches over the last four games.

The Cowboys are getting him the ball in the middle of the field, where he has space to make a play. Or they're using him on screen passes on non-traditional down and distances.

Against the Saints, Linehan called two screens in a span of three plays. The first gained 15 yards and the second resulted in a 16-yard touchdown.

"We're doing a good job of not being predictable," Elliott said. "We didn't need a bunch of new plays, we just need to use the plays we have at different times, and the coaches have done a good job of doing that."

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