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'It's not one against the other': McCarthy confident in both Pollard, mending Elliott

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott had “a good day of practice” on Thursday, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, taking full reps in the team portion of work even though he was officially listed on the practice report as limited.

Whether or not Elliott suits up for Sunday’s showdown with the Packers at Lambeau Field has yet to be decided, but McCarthy feels confident in his rushing attack no matter what.

“Tomorrow will be the final test” for Elliott, McCarthy told reporters in his press conference on Friday.

If the two-time rushing champ can’t go due to the knee sprain he suffered in Week 7, it will be the Tony Pollard show once again.

“Whatever they ask me to do, whatever they need me to do, I got it,” Pollard said this week, echoing the sentiment he carried into the team’s most recent outing against Chicago.

Pollard tied career-highs in rushing attempts and rushing yards in the 49-29 win and scored a personal-best three touchdowns. But while his numbers were outstanding, questions arose about his durability as a smaller-built back.

Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete suggested that Pollard had hit a wall by the time he crossed the goal line the third time against the Bears, claiming that 30 offensive snaps was probably the 209-pounder’s limit.

“I definitely can do more” than 30 snaps, Pollard said this week, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean exactly a 30-play cutoff.”

As ProFootballTalk points out, Pollard was in on 41 snaps versus Detroit, toting the rock on his final one for a 25-yard gain late in the game. And seeing a 52-snap workload against San Francisco in 2020, Pollard turned a 40-yard touchdown on his last play.

On Friday, McCarthy brushed off any notion that Pollard wouldn’t be able to handle a full load if required.

“Tony Pollard’s a man. He’s in great shape. I think Tony,” said McCarthy, “could be a No. 1 feature back.”

His stats sure seem to support that. Pollard’s in the top 20 among all rushers this season, and his average of 6.2 yards per carry is currently leading all NFL running backs who have more than six attempts.

Elliott lags in per-rush average by two yards, but at 443 yards so far this season, he still ranks 23rd leaguewide in just seven games played and is 16th in total carries.

For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s LaDanian Tomlinson picked Pollard to go off in Week 10, making a bold prediction that he’d rack up 200 rushing yards against the Packers on Sunday.

Of course, that would be much harder to do if he’s splitting time with Elliott. But McCarthy says observers are getting too caught up in the idea of which Dallas rusher gets more snaps or more carries than the other.

“I don’t look at it the way everybody wants to look at it,” the coach explained Friday on 105.3 The Fan. “It’s not one against the other; it’s the benefit of having both of them. Obviously, Tony’s numbers speak for themselves and his style of running.

“But the thing about Zeke, especially in the game like we’re getting ready to play here on Sunday: there aren’t too may people who want to tackle Ezekiel Elliott, let’s be honest. I go back to the first time I saw him play in 2016 up there [in Green Bay]. He came ripping past our sideline, and I was like, ‘Holy hell…’ He’s a powerful runner. Those are things that don’t show up on a stat sheet, but Zeke brings a toughness, an attitude, you talk about a great teammate. There are so many other great qualities that he has that do not show up as rushing attempts.”

Even in street clothes, Elliott was Pollard’s biggest cheerleader during the Week 9 win. He may be again this weekend if Pollard gets a second straight start. Or Elliott may play, knee brace and all, and share backfield duties with Pollard. The Cowboys don’t know.

And right now, with the ground game humming, McCarthy doesn’t particularly care.

“We’re so blessed to have two outstanding running backs,” McCarthy said. “The most important thing is to get both those guys their touches, but the reality is, it gives us a chance to go attack a defense and not really worry about who’s in the game.”

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