By Bailey Montgomery
The Battle of the Running Backs
Divisional Round - RB Preview
Todd Gurley II vs. Ezekiel Elliott
Tomorrow, arguably the two best running backs will square off in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs in Los Angeles. One of these runners led the league in rushing yards, while the other led the league in rushing touchdowns. Had the Cowboys not held Ezekiel Elliott out of the regular season finale in New York in Week 17, Elliott also would have led the league in all-purpose yards, as Saquon Barkley surpassed Elliott in the final week with Zeke not dressed out. Gurley, who did not play the final weeks of the season, finished with 17 rushing touchdowns in only 14 games. He added 4 receiving touchdowns to this tally, adding up to 21 total touchdowns in his 2018 campaign. To me, these are the two best backs in the league, and choosing between them is like splitting hairs. I will walk through the numbers as we try to see which running back has the advantage on Saturday night.
Starting with Gurley, for the year, he rushed for 1,251 yards on 256 attempts, good for a 4.9 rushing yards per attempt average. He added 580 receiving yards on 59 receptions, good for a 9.8 yards per reception average. Gurley has been touted as one of the best running backs catching the ball out of the backfield since he arrived in the league, and he showed that again this year. Gurley had one of the best days of his career back in Week 4 of the 2017 season against Marinelli’s defense, going for 215 total yards in a 35-30 Rams victory. He rushed 23 times for 121 yards. He also had 7 receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. Hopefully this Cowboys defense finds a way to slow down Gurley in this contest.
Now with Zeke, who had a fine year himself. On the year, Elliott rushed for 1434 yards on 304 carries to go with 6 rushing touchdowns, as the red zone struggles for the Cowboys have certainly hurt Elliott’s touchdown numbers. Zeke brought in more receptions than Gurley out of the backfield with 77, but was slightly under him in receiving yards with 567. He added 3 touchdowns receiving to bring him to 9 total touchdowns. Back in that Week 4 contest in 2017, Zeke also had a huge day, with a touchdown on the ground and receiving. Zeke rushed for 85 yards on 21 carries to go with 4 receptions for 54 yards in a loss.
These two did have a couple mutual opponents on the 2018 schedule, so let’s look how these two faired against these opponents...
Gurley vs Seattle in Week 5: 22 rushing attempts for 77 yards (3.5 AVG) and 3 TD’s. 4 receptions for 36 yards (9.0 AVG)
Gurley vs Seattle in Week 10: 16 rushing attempts for 120 yards (7.5 AVG) and 1 TD. 3 receptions for 40 yards (13.33 AVG).
Gurley vs Detroit in Week 13: 23 rushing attempts for 132 yards (5.74 AVG) and 2 TD. 3 receptions for 33 yards (11 AVG)
Gurley vs Philadelphia in Week 15: 12 rushing attempts for 48 yards (4.0 AVG) and 2 TD. 10 receptions for 76 yards (7.6 AVG).
Elliott vs Seattle in Week 3: 16 rushing attempts for 127 yards (7.94 AVG). 3 receptions for 11 yards (3.67 AVG).
Elliott vs Seattle in Wild Card game: 26 rushing attempts for 137 yards (5.27 AVG) and 1 TD. 4 receptions for 32 yards (8.0 AVG).
Elliott vs Detroit in Week 4: 25 rushing attempts for 152 yards (6.08 AVG). 4 receptions for 88 yards (22.0 AVG) and 1 TD.
Elliott vs Philadelphia in Week 10: 19 rushing attempts for 151 yards (7.95 AVG) and 1 TD. 6 receptions for 36 yards (6.0 AVG) and 1 TD.
Elliott vs Philadelphia in Week 14: 28 attempts for 113 yards (4.04 AVG). 12 receptions for 79 yards (6.58 AVG).
Per game Averages of mutual opponents:
Gurley: 18.25 Attempts, 94.25 yards, 2 TD ( 5.16 Yards per carry). 5 Receptions, 46.25 yards.
Elliott: 22.8 Attempts, 135 yards, 0.4 TD (5.92 Yards per carry). 5.8 Receptions, 49.2 yards.
Just within the mutual opponents, Zeke cleary has the edge in the yardage category. He averages more rushing yards, more receiving yards, and significantly more yards per carry in similar games. This, matched with the Rams defense giving up a league-high 5.1 yards per carry this season, I am going to give Ezekiel Elliott the edge on Saturday night. While Gurley is certainly an elite running back, I think Ezekiel Elliott will have the bigger night under the bright lights, helping the Cowboys get to their first NFC Championship Game since the 1995-96 season.
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