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Analysis: Ezekiel Elliott's 60-yard TD run shows why the fat guys up front are so important

Dallas has the best run-blocking offensive line in the league and they showed their worth on Sunday.

Elliott may be credited with the touchdown, but it was a team effort.
Elliott may be credited with the touchdown, but it was a team effort.

WHILE MOST OF the talk after Dallas’s comprehensive victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night revolved around whether or not the Cowboys had a quarterback controversy, Ezekiel Elliott had yet another impressive showing at running back.

After a difficult start, the former Ohio State back has averaged 137 yards and a touchdown in each of his last three games.

Against the Bengals, 60 of his 134 yards came on one run that resulted in a touchdown.

If you missed it, here’s how it looked on TV:

Source: NFL Gamepass

Pre-snap read: Offence

The Cowboys are lined up in their 12 personnel grouping with two tight ends — Jason Witten (red) and Geoff Swaim (blue) — and a running back — Elliott (yellow) — in a single-back formation.

The twist on this formation is that it is known as a ‘H-Back’ set (though most call it a two tight end set these days).

Developed by Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington professional football team, the formation sees one tight end employed in the traditional blocking role while the other is available as a pass catcher should the need arise.

Source: NFL GamePass

Before the snap, Swaim makes his way from the right of the Dallas offensive line to the left, causing a shift in the defence that shows quarterback Dak Prescott that they are playing zone defence.

Pre-snap read: defence

The Bengals are in Cover 2 meaning two safeties — Shawn Williams (#36) and George Iloka (#43) — each responsible for covering half of the field on a deep pass.

Up front, Cincinnati are in their base 4-3 formation with Karlos Dansby (orange), Rey Maualuga (purple) and Vontaze Burfict (green) the Sam (strong-side), Mike (middle) and Will (weak-side) linebackers respectively.

Source: NFL Gamepass

The Sam linebacker is the one lined up on the side of the field with the tight end, or in the case of two tight ends, the side with the most offensive personnel.

At the snap

Here’s where we must give credit to the fat guys up front.

The Dallas offensive line is ranked by Football Outsiders as the best run-blocking front-five in football and they prove why on this play.

From left to right — Tyron Smith (#77), Ronald Leary (#65), Travis Frederick (#72) Zack Martin (#70) and Doug Free (#68) — they all execute their blocks perfectly.

Source: NFL Gamepass

As you can see below, Leary even manages to throw a quick block on Domata Peko (#94) before moving on to Dansby (#56) while Martin – ranked by Pro Football Focus as the second-best guard in the league — easily accounts for the Bengals’ biggest threat on the defensive line, Geno Atkins (#97).

However, the run could still have been stopped in the backfield were it not for the blocking of the tight end Swaim, who moves across the line to stop Carlos Dunlap (#96) from even getting a hand on Elliott.

Free’s heads-up block of Maualuga (#58) should also be noted.

Source: NFL Gamepass

What happens next?

Elliott runs very, very fast.

His 4.47 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine was nothing to write home about but he clocked a top-speed on this run of 34.6 kph.

To put that in context, Usain Bolt’s 100m world record was run at an average speed of 44.7 kph. He wasn’t wearing pads though.

Source: NFL Gamepass

Elliott’s top-speed was the second fastest rushing touchdown of 2016 — Isaiah Crowell hit 35.35 kph earlier this year — but it meant the Rookie of the Year candidate was almost impossible to catch.

And none of it would have been possible without the fat guys ahead of him creating the space in the first place.


The role of Jason Witten on this play should not be understated.

The veteran tight end may not have blocked anybody but, as you can see below, he occupied two defenders — Iloka and Burfict — either of whom could have easily made a tackle on Elliott had they not been preoccupied with #82.

Source: NFL Gamepass

>>Read the rest of our Coaches Film series

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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