DALLAS — Now that the Dallas Cowboys have wrapped up a rough stretch of three football games in 11 days with three wins and a serious smash mouthed victory over the NFL’s best squad, the team has some extended rest before taking on their hated rivals from Philadelphia. The Cowboys have now won four games in a row and sit alone atop the NFC East, for now. The performances of the defense won’t go unnoticed.
The defense, led by a couple of Boise State Broncos in Leighton Vander Esch (NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month), DeMarcus Lawrence, and the feel-good story of Jaylon Smith, has been elite. They have seemed to take on the persona of their defensive backs coach and play caller Kris Richard who brought the hard-hitting mentality from Seattle's Legion of Boom era.
The emergence of the NFL's second best scoring defense at 18.6 points per game – behind only Baltimore's 18.0 points per game – has allowed the Cowboys to get back into the hunt not just for a division title, but also put themselves in the conversation for making noise come playoff time.
While the defense has been a major reason, you cannot overlook just how important third-year running back and 2016 Rushing Champion Ezekiel Elliott has been. During the current winning streak of four games, Elliott has accounted for 667 total yards which comes out to 166.8 yards per game. Extrapolate that over a full 16 game season and you're talking 2,669 yards and probably the league MVP.
Zeke has been able to take games over thanks in part to the recent addition of Amari Cooper who has opened things up on offense by giving opposing defenses another player they must account for. Elliott has ascended to the top spot on the rushing yards leaders list and has found paydirt in each game of the winning streak.
It is more than just the fact that Elliott fills out the stat sheet for the Cowboys, though. The Cowboys need Elliott the teammate. He is a leader on this team as you can see during coverage of the pregame huddles. You can sense the energy around him. Elliott took that spot as team hype man when Sean Lee re-injured his hamstring earlier this season.
Physically, Zeke is a difference maker whether he is punishing defenders with his physical style or blocking for his quarterback. This team is designed to punish defenses and control the clock with Elliott as the battering ram that wears them down. There may not be a better back to do that outside of maybe Todd Gurley.
Despite the physicality at which he plays, Zeke rarely misses practice. He has been as durable as you can ask for. Since Elliott joined the league, he has more rushing yards (3,764) than any back in the NFL all while missing six games, though none for injury.
Elliott is also the only running back to average over 100 yards per game during that span. Second best belongs to Gurley with 3,233 yards and he played in five more games than Elliott. The production and durability just goes to show you how important Elliott has been to the Dallas Cowboys.
Elliott should receive a good amount of credit for the way he has been able to take the league by storm after the Cowboys used the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft to select him. This is especially true considering how the position has been devalued across the league. The Cowboys took a chance that other teams might have shied away from and Zeke has responded by being the best runner and tone setter in the league for them.
In a league that has transitioned more and more into building offenses around throwing the ball, the Cowboys are playing an old-school style with some success. With a top-tier defense now backing him up, the Cowboys will keep feeding Ezekiel Elliott for as far as he can take them.
Who is the team MVP for the Cowboys? Is it a well fed Zeke or someone from the Cowboys' surging defense? Share your pick with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.