Ezekiel Elliott’s Breakout Perfomance Electrifies Cowboys as Legal Issues Loom

SANTA CLARA, Calif – The Dallas Cowboys would have crushed the San Francisco 49ers even if a Southern District of New York judge had not granted Ezekiel Elliott a temporary restraining order allowing him to play this weekend. It just might not have been as bone crushing as the Cowboys’ 40-10 statement win over the hapless 49ers.

Elliott had his best outing of the season, taking advantage of the plethora of opportunities presented by his offensive line, and plowing his way to create more of his own. The second year back ended Sunday’s blowout with a stat line reminiscent of his exhilarating rookie campaign: 147 rushing yards on 26 attempts, two touchdowns on the ground, plus a 72-yard touchdown reception. While basking in the glow of victory Elliott, made a concerted effort to deflect attention away from his breakout performance.

“That felt great, we played a great game as a team,” he said. “Everyone did their job and when you know what kind of players you have and everyone plays to the best of their ability, that’s what it’s going to look like.”

Attendance at Levi’s Stadium was sparse as usual, and almost half the crowd appeared to be Cowboys fans. Upon entering, I observed two Cowboys fans (one donning a Dak Prescott jersey, the other an Elliott jersey) approach a fan in a Patrick Willis jersey and say “Welcome to Dallas” with a Jerry Jones-sized grin.

The Cowboys fans in attendance were treated to a rejuvenated team that put on its most complete performance of the season. Tight end Jason Witten credits the early bye week for the team’s more hopeful trajectory. “It forced us to reflect. We got to build. We understood the margin is smaller.”

But it was Elliott’s marvel of a game – one in which he forced a stratospheric number of 49ers missed tackles – that electrified fans and the Cowboys locker room.

“I thought today and really the last couple of weeks he’s played well but today it really felt like there was great energy with it,” Witten said. “It was downhill. He was constantly falling forward. Certainly Zeke’s approach, when we’re at out best that’s what it looked like.”

Jerry Jones also gushed about Elliott’s mentality and effort.

“He was driven. He had an air about him before the ballgame. I think he was in as good a frame of mind as he’s been in all year. Zeke is very inspirational in our locker room and was all of last year. It’s basically done with that enthusiasm, such a genuine way handles himself, his body language.”

Elliott was not actually in the Cowboys locker room until Wednesday this week; his status for Sunday was in major jeopardy as his legal battle against the NFL took an unfavorable, albeit predictable, turn. Last Thursday a federal appeals court in New Orleans vacated the preliminary injunction that had allowed Elliott to play in the first five games, placing Elliott’s six-game suspension for domestic violence charges alleged by an ex-girlfriend back in effect.

Elliott’s legal team was granted the temporary restraining order late Tuesday temporarily pausing the legal process until the presiding judge returns from vacation.

The on-again, off-again case has not fazed Elliott one bit. “I got a legal team to worry about that so I just focus on being prepared every Sunday and being the running back I need to be for this team”

Despite the off-field troubles, Elliott is a clear favorite in the locker room. Teammates insist that the cloud of uncertainly about his suspension is not a distraction, and they respect his approach to the topsy-turvy process.

“I really admire [Elliott] and his support system for not allowing that to affect him as he comes to work and keeping the main thing the main thing,” Witten said.

The main thing for Elliott is to build upon this signature performance. Despite a few bright spots this season, there were concerns about Elliott slightly regressing in several areas including attacking holes or overall physicality.  Sunday, Elliott dominated in all facets of the game, and his offensive line conveniently coalesced after some early season questions of their own.

After his monster day, Elliott continues to creep up the rushing ladder. His 540 rushing yards rank sixth overall which should be higher considering that four of the five backs ahead of him have played seven games, while Elliott has only played six due to Week 6’s bye.

Of course running all over San Francisco is hardly confirmation that Elliott is officially back. The now 0-7 49ers occupy the NFL’s bottom tier in rushing defense, not to mention every other category. Next week’s opponent, Washington, will present a much stouter defensive front for Elliott if he is on the field.

Witten is cautiously optimistic about the next stage of the season. “The margin is still small, we’re a 3-3 team.” If Sunday was any measure, the outcome of Elliott’s legal battle could go a long way in determining whether the Cowboys finish with a winning record.