Ezekiel Elliott's Pro Bowl days are behind him, but if ever there was a time and place for him to turn back the clock, it'd be Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
The New England Patriots running back will face his old team for the first time in a Week 4 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. While Elliott is the clear No. 2 back in New England behind Rhamondre Stevenson, he's coming off his best game as a Patriot after racking up 80 yards on 16 attempts (5.0 yards per rush) in the team's Week 3 win over the New York Jets.
And Elliott could find more room to run Sunday against his former squad.
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ESPN's Todd Archer joined our Tom E. Curran on a new Patriots Talk Podcast to explain how the Cowboys' run defense -- which allowed 222 yards last weekend in a shocking loss to the Arizona Cardinals -- can be exploited.
"Every week they know teams are going to attack their run, because their defense relies on speed and not so much power," Archer told Curran. "There are no Ted Washington's in this group. Jonathan Hankins is close, but he's not Ted Washington. They rely on flying to the ball and getting guys around the ball."
The Cowboys boast a ferocious pass rush led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Micah Parsons and rank second in the NFL in sacks (12) through three weeks. That should give New England even more motivation to feed Elliott and Stevenson against a run defense allowing 131.3 yards per game, 25th in the NFL.
"The Cardinals had 180 yards rushing in the first half. That was more than the Cowboys allowed in the first two games total," Archer added. "So you know (Patriots head coach Bill) Belichick, (offensive coordinator Bill) O'Brien, all these guys, what are they going to do? They're going to try to run the ball against these guys, shorten the game, keep Mac Jones away from Micah Parsons and that pass rush and make it easy for him.
"And until the Cowboys can show they can slow it down by either bringing in bigger personnel or staying in their gaps, that's what we're going to see every week."
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While Stevenson should get first dibs in the Patriots' running game, he's averaging just 2.9 yards per carry through three contests -- and his backup likely will be very motivated to succeed.
"The Zeke return is fascinating to me because I'm sure he's going to want to prove that he still has some juice in the tank," Archer said of Elliott. "He'll want to show them that they made a mistake (by letting him go).
"They weren't going to pay him. He wasn't going to count $17 million against their cap this year. That was a non-starter. So they didn't make the wrong decision. But I'm sure Zeke is fired up to go."
Elliott told ESPN's Mike Reiss he was "definitely disappointed" about his Cowboys exit, so it sounds like the motivation is there.
Again, Elliott isn't the player he once was; he mustered just 42 total yards on 12 carries combined in Weeks 1 and 2. But Archer believes the three-time Pro Bowler could resemble another bruising running back who came to the Patriots in his late 20s.
"(Elliott) had 12 touchdowns a year ago. He can still play," Archer said. "I don't think he's Corey Dillon when Corey came to the Patriots back in 2004. But he's probably more Antowain Smith at this point in his career."
Also discussed in this episode:
- Are the Patriots facing the same defenses as other NFL offenses?
- How can the Patriots get faster on offense?
- Would the Patriots be scared of facing their own offense?