12:00 PM ET
Todd ArcherESPN Staff Writer
- Covered NFL since 1997, Cowboys since 2003
- Previously covered Bengals and Dolphins
- Lives in Dallas area with his wife and two children
MINNEAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy went through the rolodex in his mind pretty quickly as he stood at the podium after the Dallas Cowboys throttled the Minnesota Vikings, 40-3, on Sunday.
Has he had a running back combination like Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard at any point in his coaching career?
“I mean I’ve been blessed to be around some. Marcus Allen, and we had Kimble Anders there [in Kansas City]. That was a good duo,” McCarthy said, thinking back to his offensive coordinator days. “Ricky Williams and Deuce McAllister [in New Orleans]. But this 1-2 punch, this is the best I’ve been a part of as far as how we can game plan and just go roll. Very dynamic.”
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked about Elliott and Pollard and reflected on his alma mater, Arkansas.
“No, not a better duo,” Jones said. “We’ve had some good ones. I liked the [Felix] Jones and [Darren] McFadden one [at Arkansas] a lot, but not a better one.”
Jones and McFadden were Cowboys but never at the same time. The owner had Julius Jones and Marion Barber for a spell in the mid-2000s. He had Felix Jones and Barber too.
But nothing like Elliott and Pollard.
“Coach told me right before the game, he said, ‘Dak and I visited, and one way or the other, [we’ll] have the ball in Pollard’s or have the ball in Zeke’s hands. Either throwing it to them or handing it to them,” Jerry Jones said. “And you saw that all night.”
Playing for the first time since Oct. 23 after suffering a hyperextended right knee, Elliott had 15 carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns. He caught one pass for 5 yards. Pollard carried 15 times for 80 yards and caught six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
Elliott and Pollard — or Pollard and Elliott, if you prefer — combined for 236 yards on offense, or 53 more yards than what the Vikings gained as a team. Heck, Pollard had 6 more yards than the Vikings’ offense.
“When this offense is rolling, we’re rolling,” Elliott said. “I think it’s tough for those defenses to stop us, always having two fresh backs. It definitely puts a lot of stress on those defenses.”
Pollard’s two touchdown catches were 30 and 68 yards, a product of scheme and his blinding speed. After the game, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence called him a “cheat code.” The 30-yard score came on a checkdown to the flat in which he had 32 yards after the catch. His second was designed to get him on linebacker Jordan Hicks, who he ran by and then went untouched to the end zone for a 30-3 lead less than three minutes into the second half.
“Just wanted to be aggressive,” Pollard said.
Elliott had his second two-touchdown game of the season, powering his way in both times Sunday from 1-yard out. His first gave the Cowboys a 10-3 lead in the first quarter after Pollard was stoned twice by the Minnesota defense. His second came on the possession after Pollard’s 68-yard catch.
“Really just the ability to stay in and out of concepts and not worry about who the back is, is a tremendous advantage for us. And we came in here, obviously, with an ability to focus on the run and then play the pass off of that just because of having both Tony and Zeke,” McCarthy said.
Sunday was the first time the Cowboys have had two running backs score at least two touchdowns in the same game since Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse against the New York Giants in 1980. Had the game been closer — or if the Cowboys did not have a game in four days against the Giants — Pollard could have challenged a team mark held by Dorsett (1978) and Herschel Walker (1986) in having 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
“In and out, fresh on the field,” Pollard said. “Just keeping the defense guessing, not knowing what to prepare for, we feel like we have the advantage.”
With Pollard’s success, there seems to be an undercurrent that Elliott is getting too much work. But the Cowboys are enjoying what both are doing, while understanding what Elliott means to the team.
“In my opinion, Zeke embodies the identity of our football team to a T,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “He’s willing to do whatever. He’s physical. He’s smart. He’s tough. And that stuff is contagious man. TP had a great couple of weeks when Zeke was out, but just having Zeke back, that is a contagious guy. That energy that he brings, it’s there for the whole football team.”
So, back to those running back duos.
The Cleveland Browns have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who have combined for 1,433 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground and through the air this season. The Green Bay Packers have Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who have combined for 1,602 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and through the air.
The Elliott and Pollard combination has combined for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Is there a better duo than Elliott and Pollard – or Pollard and Elliott?
“Ummm,” Pollard paused. “I’ll let y’all decide on that one.”