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Discipline or strategy? Ezekiel Elliott didn't start for Cowboys vs Colts; explanations differ

When the Cowboys offense took the field for the first time Sunday night, it was also the first time for something else.

Ezekiel Elliott was standing on the sideline. Active and available. Not injured. But technically not starting at running back.

Tony Pollard got the first carry of the game. Elliott wouldn’t see his first action until the offense’s seventh snap.

There are differing explanations as to why.

Team owner Jerry Jones said after the 54-19 win that the two-time rushing champ had violated a team rule during the week, leading to him not starting for the first time in his career when he was otherwise healthy and active.

Elliott, however, told reporters that the Cowboys’ coaches simply switched things up.

Ultimately, it didn’t seem to matter much. Elliott and Pollard went on to split carries fairly evenly on the night and turn in similar stat lines in the big win- 17 attempts and 77 yards for Elliott; 12 rushes for 91 yards by Pollard. Pollard had two touchdowns; Elliott added another during the fourth-quarter barrage.

But in a year when so much has been made of the team’s tandem ground attack and so much dissection of both their running styles and gameday results- especially with questions about both players futures with the club- it did raise a few eyebrows that Elliott started the game as a spectator.

Whether it was punishment or part of a master plan, though, depends on who you ask.

“I think there was a little issue that he had with his coach and some discipline issues,” Jones told reporters Sunday night. “Being tardy for a meeting or a phone going off or something serious, relative to Zeke.”

The 80-year-old admitted that he personally wouldn’t have benched Elliott for such a minor infraction, saying, “I’d be a lot more lenient than that.”

But Jones was quick to point out that it was not a “demotion” and that the incident was “nothing of consequence,” adding that Elliott has had “no behavior issues” within the building.

Not taking the first snap did seem to be the extent of the punishment, as Elliott actually played more total snaps than Pollard, 38 to 28.

Quarterback Dak Prescott brushed off any importance to the whole matter, hinted that the switcheroo was Elliott’s own idea, and joked that Elliott even found a silver lining to coming in late.

“He said going in there second, those guys weren’t as fresh and he was able to bully up on them a little bit more than usual,” Prescott said in his postgame press conference. “At this point, I don’t think it matters who goes in there on the first play of the game.”

The two Cowboys backs currently rank 16th and 17th in the NFL in rushing attempts on the season, and both are in the top 20 in rushing yards. Pollard’s 5.8-yard-per-carry average is fifth-best in the league, while just seven ball carriers have more rushing scores than Elliott’s eight.

“Those two guys have zero ego,” Prescott continued. “They’re each other’s biggest supporters and biggest fans. They’re a special duo… and they’re huge for this team, so it doesn’t matter who’s getting the first snap.”

But it will almost certainly matter to much of the Cowboys fanbase, who will use it all as fuel for the never-ending argument about which back should be the featured rusher in Dallas.


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