When the Giants held Ezekiel Elliott to 51 rushing yards on 20 carries in the opening game of the season, they knew they had accomplished something.
“I didn’t think that was going to be the case for him all year,” Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said this past week.
He admitted, however, that he had no idea how right he would be.
“I didn’t think,” he added with a chuckle, “he would be leading the league in rushing.”
Yet here we are, Week 14 of the NFL season, and Elliott is the most dangerous ground weapon in the NFL. The fourth overall selection in this year’s draft leads the NFL in rushing attempts (263) and yards (1,285) and is second in rushing touchdowns (12) and yards from scrimmage (1,607). Since the Giants held him to 51, he has not been held under 83 by any opponent. He had a streak of four straight games with at least 134 rushing yards in each and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Mathematically, at the rate of 4.9 yards per carry, the Cowboys could just hand him the ball on every play and, with a lucky spot, hardly ever face a third down!
No wonder he’s the leading candidate for both NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and NFL Most Valuable Player.
“He’s running all over everybody,” Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. “He’s a real good back. From the very first time we played against him, we all said: ‘That guy is going to be a player in this league.’ That seems to be true up to this point.”
At least one of the Giants knew long before that Sept. 11 introductory meeting that Elliott would be this productive in the pros. Giants first-round pick Eli Apple was his teammate at Ohio State and witnessed the precursor to this performance.
“It was expected,” Apple said. “He’s always been a good baller, so I’m not surprised at all.”
The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that runs the ball more often than it passes it. If you ask Elliott, he has very little to do with that.
“I think all of my success is due to the offensive line,” Elliott said. “Those guys, they work their tails off and they get everything started. It’s great running behind those guys. They’re beasts. They’re the best at what they do.”
And they’ve made Elliott the best this year, too.
The Giants are coming off a game against Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers in which he became the first back to reach 100 yards against them this season. Elliott, though, presents a different challenge.
“He’s an all-around back,” Casillas said. “He’s different from the back we played last week. But these are the cream of the crop guys. Very, very good backs. [Elliott] is a very patient runner but he can get to the outside. He can present a lot of things and you have to be gap-sound and technique-sound.”
“He’s fast enough and big enough,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Elliott. “He runs over people. He doesn’t necessarily try and run around people. Great backs are all like this. They get better and better as the game goes.”
The Giants, like Elliott himself, aren’t ready to give the rookie all of the credit.
“A little bit of that has to do with the offensive line,” Spagnuolo said of the success. “They have a good offensive line. A good offensive line with a talented running back is a tough duty.”
“He’s a good back, he has a great offensive line,” Casillas said. “Everyone talks about how good of a back he is but [Darren McFadden] had a lot of yards last year as well and Alfred Morris does good whenever he’s in as well. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what back is in there, because it does, but the O-line is pretty damn good.”
Grudgingly, the Giants may admit, so is Elliott.
“He is more of a conventional downhill running back,” Casillas said. “He just does it a lot better than everybody else.”
1. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL1,285
2. DeMarco Murray, TEN1,043
3. David Johnson, ARI 1,005
1. LeGarrette Blount,NE13
2. Ezekiel Elliott DAL12
3. Latavius Murray, OAK12
1. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL263
2. Melvin Gordon, SD251
3. LeGarrette Blount, NE230
Yards per carry
1. LeSean McCoy, BUF5.5
2. Mark Ingram, NO5.3
3. Jay Ajayi MIA5.2
4. Ezekiel Elliott DAL4.9
Rushing yards per game
1. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL107.1
2. Le‘Veon Bell, PIT90.8
3. DeMarco Murray, TEN86.9