The Dallas Cowboys are extremely good at blocking and setting up stellar running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott, and they showcased those skills on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Elliott finished the game with 26 carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught one pass for 72 yards and a touchdown.
San Francisco did themselves no favors on defense when it came to Elliott. In reviewing the film, I was most disappointed to see that Reuben Foster was struggling on his angles, and Eric Reid does not seem to be a good fit in his new role.
The other major concern is that Solomon Thomas seems far too complacent and allows himself to be redirected wherever the blocker wants. The 49ers did nothing to shut down the running lanes.
Of course, Elliott deserves a lot of credit. He probably has the best vision of any running back in the league, and he certainly made his fair share of plays on Sunday. But on some of his biggest gains, Elliott was simply following immaculate play design and blocking from the guys in front of him, and the 49ers made themselves look bad in the process.
Below, we’re going to break down some film of Elliott’s four biggest runs and his 72-yard touchdown reception. It’s not pretty.
14:00 in 1st Quarter, 1st and 10 from SF 20: Elliott left guard to SF 6 for 14 yards (Ray-Ray Armstrong)
DeForest Buckner gets through the offensive line, but he’s pushed out of the way, creating the hole for Elliott. The rest of the 49ers’ defensive line gets absolutely manhandled on the play, with guys getting pushed back several yards. The linebackers all are slow to react, and Reuben Foster in particular takes a terrible angle and loses momentum far too early. He seems to give up on the play.
Eli Harold has the line on Elliott, but he’s far too slow, and Elliott cuts inside a blocker, cutting Harold off. Ray-Ray Armstrong gets a hand on Elliott, tripping him up, though he hesitates at the beginning of the play as well. All in all, a very sluggish performance from the 49ers’ linebackers.
7:57 in 1st Quarter, 1st and 10 from SF 25: Elliott right guard for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN
From the snap, the 49ers’ defensive line again gets no push, and the Cowboys effectively collapse the outside to allow Solomon Thomas and Xavier Cooper to overrun the play, eliminating them from the picture. Elliott runs right at Jaquiski Tartt, who is blocked effectively out of the play. K’Waun Williams is following the motion man and realizes far too late that a run is happening, a big mistake from him.
Reuben Foster is, again, remarkably passive on the play. He stands and waits for the blocker to engage with him, and accordingly, Elliott is easily past him and into the secondary, where Williams is making his mistake and Jimmie Ward takes an extremely poor angle for the tackle.
0:20 in 2nd Quarter, 1st and 10 from DAL 32: Elliott up the middle to DAL 45 for 13 yards (Jaquiski Tartt)
Look how badly Thomas gets eaten alive on this play. It’s not all push from the blocker, as Thomas is trying to disengage, but being tangled up for about 10 yards is just sad — he should be better than that by now. The line collapses to allow Elvis Dumervil and to overrun the play on the outside, while Elliott casually cuts up the middle, following the destruction of Thomas and the extremely passive play of Eric Reid.
Here, Foster redeems himself a bit. He doesn’t exactly save a big gain, but he directs his blocker right into the pile, where Tartt already is. Tartt swarms well for the tackle, while Ward is far too slow to react for my liking.
11:12 in 3rd Quarter, 1st and 10 from DAL 28: Dak Prescott pass short right to Elliott for 72 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Buckner gets through the line and looks like he’s going to get a sack, but he realizes that the ball is about to go over his head. It does, and Elliott runs past Ward getting blocked and then makes all of Foster, Tartt and Rashard Robinson look terrible in the back half of the play.
None of those guys are even being blocked particularly effectively, and Elliott happily runs right past them. Add some very poor tackling from Johnson, Reid completely misreading the play on the other side of the field and we’ve got a textbook 49ers blunder.
5:12 in 3rd Quarter, 1st and 10 from SF 45: Elliott left end pushed ob at SF 31 for 14 yards (Armstrong)
Buckner probably should have been able to extend and make this tackle, but Elliott runs right past him. Thomas can’t disengage from his blocker until too late, and the other guys are on the wrong side of the play. Dontae Johnson is being blocked into oblivion down the sideline, and there are no linebackers to speak of in the area. Foster thinks he can blow up the play, but Elliott casually cuts outside to get himself out of the way.