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Question of the week: How will the Cowboys running backs be utilized against the 49ers?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Divisional round is on deck, and the Cowboys will have to decide on how to utilize their pair of running backs.

When the Cowboys won on Monday night, Tony Pollard had more carries that Ezekiel Elliott for just the third time this season in games in which both were active. He ran the ball 15 times for 77 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry as opposed to Elliott’s 13 for 27 and 2.1 yards per carry. The last four weeks of the season, the Cowboys didn’t have a running back average more than four yards per carry, so Pollard’s performance was a breath of fresh air for a backfield that desperately needed it. Pollard looked good and showed his usual burst, breaking off the longest run of the night from either team for 18 yards. For the first time this season, we can expect Pollard to get more carries that Elliott in consecutive games.

Elliott’s last 40 rushes have gone for 74 yards. Although he is given more short distance and goal line runs, it’d be untrue to say that’s all he gets. He passed Mark Ingram this season for the most touches among active backs, so his 2016 burst isn’t going to be there, but Pollard’s is and he proved that Monday.

However, contrary to popular belief, the Cowboys are still 8-3 this season when Elliott has more carries than Pollard when both are active. So, the generalization that it’s a losing recipe is incorrect. However, in five of those 11 games, Pollard still had more rushing yards even with less volume.

Looking forward, the 49ers have a great defense. That’s apparent. However, last week Kenneth Walker averaged 4.2 yards per carry against them. That is the highest mark the 49ers defense has allowed in the past month, so hopefully the Cowboys run game can find things to exploit with Pollard, and with Elliott complementing him, find even more success. In order for the Cowboys to win, the rushing attack will have to be a focal point. As good as Dak Prescott was against the Buccaneers, it’s hard to expect a 75% completion percentage out of him again.

Last year in the 49ers playoff game, the Cowboys’ backs ran the ball 16 times for just 45 yards. That can’t happen again. Pollard may very easily get more touches than anyone else on the Cowboys offense on Sunday night, which no one will be complaining about. Time will tell if that is the right call.


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