Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott poised for a late run at Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott runs the ball in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

In 1983, Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson rushed for 1,808 yards, setting the NFL record for most yards by a rookie. Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has a chance to break that record.

Elliott has rushed for 891 yards this season, putting him on pace for 1,782 yards by year's end. At this same point during the season, Dickerson had 995 yards but just 813 yards in the second-half of his record-setting season. And with the Cowboys' upcoming schedule, Elliott might be able to gain some ground on the rookie rushing record.

Elliott is an explosive runner. Per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Elliott is averaging 2.94 yards per carry after contact and his 13 runs of 15 yards or more tie him with the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy for most in the NFL, giving him every chance to break Dickerson's record.

According to Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric, the Cowboys will face just two above-average run defenses in terms of limiting second-level yards, or those yards earned by opposing running backs between five and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage: the Baltimore Ravens (No. 2) and New York Giants (No. 3). Everyone else Dallas will face is well below average in this regard, perhaps even allowing Elliott to gain momentum down the stretch.

It also helps that Elliott gets to rush behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Through the first half of the season, the Cowboys offensive line has allowed its rushers to get stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage 16 percent of the time (No. 6 in a league where the average is 19 percent), while producing the No. 4 most adjusted line yards per snap (4.41), which are yards per carry adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations.

Three of their offensive linemen - left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick - rank in the top 10 of PFF's run-block rating with Martin and Frederick tops at their respective positions. Only the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans have been given higher overall run-blocking grades than the Cowboys through Week 8 of this season.

The line is versatile enough to be effective in either man or zone-blocking schemes and allows Coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan the option of keeping a near 50/50 split in run and play calls (235 to 234), even when they trail by a touchdown or more (16 pass and 15 rush plays).

Dickerson's record had stood this long not only because of how difficult it is to be productive as a rookie but also due to how pass-happy the NFL has become. But Elliott needs just one big game to get him back on track, and his remaining schedule plus a strong supporting cast affords him every opportunity to do so.


Author Information:

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Neil Greenberg




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