Monday, August 29, 2016

Reviewing Ezekiel Elliott's Preseason Debut

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
There is no question that today is yet another day dominated by the quarterback conversation in Dallas. And why wouldn't it be? After a disastrous 2015, when the only quarterback performances were bad ones, the hope in 2016 was that the franchise quarterback would be back to show us how it's done.

Well, that didn't last long. Three snaps in Seattle, in fact.
Unfortunately, this basically means the past three injuries have been sustained on the last handful of times Romo has been smashed by NFL defenders. I don't have the exact number, but let's just say the regularity of these damaging blows is going in one direction.
Nobody wants to face the possibility that we might be much closer to dusk than we want to admit, but this is really not abnormal in NFL history. Thirty-six years old is certainly the time that many QBs through time have had their bodies begin to give out and the player ponders his future, while the franchise ponders the same. It is sad and uncomfortable, but it is also far more common than a player celebrating his 40th birthday in a huddle.  
It is the circle of NFL life. The end is pain and a realization that the body can't do it anymore. The beginning is filled with 21-year-olds that think they are indestructible and plan on dominating the league with sheer power.
Enter the fourth overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott.  We looked at him back in the spring time and marveled at his skill set. There is no question that running backs often don't make sense that high in the draft, but with Romo's future in question, it is sure enjoyable to have someone this talented to help Dak Prescott.
They took off the bubble wrap for 14 plays in Seattle on Thursday night, so I thought we might enjoy taking a look at what he did and how he did it on this Monday review:
First chance is a rather uneventful middle run where he keeps the legs turning. Expect to see plenty of that, as his outside speed is made far more dangerous because he is a real threat between the tackles. This isn't Felix Jones. This is a battering ram to the inside and jet to the outside, which keeps everyone honest.
The darn thing about this injury is that this is not an easy pickup for the RB on the blitz. KJ Wright is bearing down from across the formation and Elliott gets over there on the blitz pickup and has everything coordinated. He goes low (which is something you can do, but not too often) and buys Romo time to get the ball off. Sadly, Romo did not get rid of it, and instead tried an improv that will be debated for a while. But, I thought No. 21 did fine here for his first big test.
Here is Prescott's first play and you can see he went to Beasley, but watch Elliott lose his linebacker with great ease on the arrow back to the middle. That is Bobby Wagner No. 54 that just lost his footing with Elliott shaking his hips a bit. Nice.
This is subtle, but they want to go 11 personnel and then line up in empty. This is such a weapon if you have a RB that can do this, because with 11 personnel, you want to force the defense to match your group for an entire possession.  If you have Elliott, you can make the defense wrong all the time.  If they bring in a group to stop the run, you spread them out with 5-wide in empty and crush their run stoppers trying to cover. If they bring out cover guys, then you shift Witten and Elliott back inside and ground and pound them with up-tempo. I promise, this is a plan they are showing and plan on using this season.  All-purpose offense is where the league is headed and it takes versatile 11-personnel packages.  
Here is Elliott's second blitz pickup. Really, nothing remarkable to see. Which is how you like it. He just stones his man and gives his quarterback some time.  
Second Possession:
This is the play that had everyone buzzing. Look at the jets here. Simple zone right, but the afterburners are crazy against the Seattle first-stringers.  This is to the short side of the field and he still beats everyone there by enough to turn the corner. This offensive line and this running back should do some real damage.
Next snap and a similar look on a right side run (although 70 appears to be pulling) and he cuts back inside against the pursuit and watch 71-Collins in space. This group should be pretty impressive. He is looking to finish every run which I love, but also scares me in terms of knowing many a college hot-shot running back has come to the NFL and learned that over five months of football, it is tough to give and take that amount of punishment and stay fit and right.  
But, on this night, he was looking to show the league he belongs.
Next play, find the biggest and baddest safety in the league -- Kam Chancellor -- and try to run him over. Yes, this line is good. With Elliott, get ready for a lot of this. He is untouched into the secondary and then tries to truck Kam.  
You didn't think Kam was going to like that, did you? Here is a penalty to send the message back to Elliott that you shouldn't do that.
And here is how the young rookie making his NFL debut responded.
Next, another strategy point. Elliott causes so much consternation that everyone crashes to him, and that is when Dak keeps around the corner for nine easy yards. This should happen quite a bit this year.
And here on the last play is the final Elliott vs Chancellor moment, where Elliott again demonstrates his quality.  He spins right away from the big hit and falls forward.
The Cowboys got a good one here, no doubt. I hope he doesn't try to run over everyone in this league because he isn't 260, he is 225. But, it is great to see he has the ability to use these traits when needed. The imperative for him will be to make sure he stays on the field and out of the training room. He must play in 16 games this year for this team to have a chance now. So, pick your spots.
He is unreal in his ability. But, the cliche does say that "the most important ability is availability."
They need Dez and Zeke to carry the rookie quarterback along this year until Romo returns.  
Most teams starting  a rookie running back and a rookie quarterback combination would be a favorite for a top-five draft pick, not a division title. It will be interesting to see what Elliott can do for this team on a week by week basis.  
There appear to be all sorts of options to use his ability.

No comments: