Rico Dowdle’s breakout game last week against the New York Giants led to Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy being asked about getting the team’s No. 2 running back more touches in future games.
While he acknowledged Dowdle’s impressive outing, which consisted of 12 carries for a game-high 79 yards and a touchdown, McCarthy made it clear who is the team’s No. 1 back.
“I have no problem with Rico getting more carries,” he said. “That would be great. But also my focus is Tony Pollard, as far as the primary ball carrier.”
Pollard continued to be Dallas’ primary ball carrier in Sunday’s 33-10 win at Carolina, rushing 12 times for a game-high 61 yards and a touchdown.
Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland do their thing (again) as Cowboys take care of Panthers
The scoring play was probably Pollard’s best of the season.
After the Panthers pulled within a touchdown (17-10) late in the third quarter, Dallas responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by Pollard’s 21-yard TD run on an inside zone play.
“It felt great,” Pollard said. “Just being in the open field, making plays and getting in the end zone. We’re just figuring out what works for us, what we like to run, what we block best and what we do best. Just getting in a rhythm.”
Not only did Pollard look explosive on the play, but he showed off his ability to be physical, breaking five tackles in the process.
This TD run by Tony Pollard 😤
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/zukxBuexpL
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 19, 2023
Much like the Giants the week before, the Panthers aren’t known for having a strong run defense. Opponents rush for 135 yards per game against the Giants. They rush for 129 per game against the Panthers. Both are in the bottom 10 of the NFL.
But it was important to try to spark a run game that has been a work in progress for the Cowboys this season. Dallas is averaging 117 rushing yards per game, 12th-best in the league. They’re averaging four yards per carry, tied for 20th in the NFL.
Dallas obviously needs more of the 21-yard runs that Pollard showed Sunday, a play that left guard Tyler Smith could only describe as “electric.”
“He’s that type of explosive runner,” Smith said. “That’s what he’s been trying to show people all year. He runs hard. Some people thought he was more of a speed back, but Tony runs hard. Just seeing him finally break through and get to the end zone like he’s been wanting to is huge for us. It’s something we want to continue for him for sure.”
“I told him we were going to spring him,” Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb said. “The O-line did a great job, of course, making way for him and he did a great job hitting the hole. It’s good to see his explosiveness back in action.”
It was only Pollard’s third rushing touchdown of the season and the first since the season opener against the Giants. He had a career-high nine rushing touchdowns last season while splitting carries with Ezekiel Elliott.
Last year was Pollard’s fourth year in the league. He recorded the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career. With Elliott being released in the offseason, the plan was for Pollard to take on the No. 1 role. Through 10 games, he’s on pace for 1,003 yards, four less than his total from a year ago.
His four yards per carry average is also the lowest of his career. Injuries along the offensive line have caused some struggles in continuity, which hasn’t helped things on the ground. However, on Sunday, for the third consecutive game, Dallas had its best-five starting offensive line on the field.
“It was huge for us to get the run game going there, to obviously get the favorable matchups we wanted outside (in the passing game),” Cowboys QB Dak Prescott said. “Get them more in run stopping defenses so we could attack where we wanted to.”
Prescott, Lamb and the passing game is Dallas’ offensive strength. If they make a deep playoff run, it will likely be because of a strong defense and success through the air. But there will be times when they will need to lean more on the run game, and an explosive Pollard could be the difference in them advancing or going home early again.
Where is his confidence level after 10 games as the Cowboys’ lead back?
“I feel great,” Pollard said Sunday. “Confidence-wise, I’m good. I’m great.”
McCarthy was asked after the game about Pollard gaining confidence from his play Sunday.
“He’s human,” McCarthy responded. “He needs to have those touches, because we all know what he can do. I don’t see Tony playing with any lack of confidence.
“Tony, in my view, is a proven player.”
Two days before the game in Carolina, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he had not lost any confidence in Pollard, who is playing under the franchise tag.
“I’m not seeing any diminished burst from Pollard, at all,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “We can time those guys nowadays with the technology we got out there. He’s got burst, he’s got acceleration. That hasn’t diminished at all.”
It certainly looked to be there on that 21-yard touchdown run.
(Photo: David Jensen / Getty Images)
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