Safety Barry Church believes rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott—who the Dallas Cowboys drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft—will help the Cowboys get back to 2014 levels, especially on defense.
“He’s definitely a three-tool player that can just play on every single down,” Church said Sunday on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via Pro Football Talk. “And it helps out the defense a lot. It takes up our play downs by a lot. That also happened in 2014 when we had DeMarco Murray. He was punishing defenses and we were three-and-out here, three-and-out there and we were fresh in the fourth quarter.”
Two years ago, Murray won the NFL rushing crown with 1,845 yards, while the Cowboys won 12 games—their most since the 2007 season.
Murray did much of the heavy lifting on offense, carrying a league high 392 times. As a result, the Cowboys defense played the fifth least snaps in the NFL.
“That’s how we won all of our games, by getting takeaways in the fourth quarter, but that was because we were fresh,” Church said. “Hopefully, we can get back to that same formula, where we’re just grounding and pounding people and then we’re just coming in there and cleaning things up.”
The Cowboys finished the 2014 season ranked second in the league with 31 takeaways, including 18 interceptions.
Things went downhill for Dallas last season without Murray (signed in Philadelphia) and quarterback Tony Romo (broken collarbone). The Cowboys lost 12 games, the franchise’s most in one season since 1989. The Dallas defense was on the field for more plays than the offense, while the defense produced a league worst 11 turnovers.
Having Romo healthy and Elliott in the backfield should give Dallas the right ingredients to repeat the 2014 recipe, even if the Cowboys defense isn’t considered one of the league’s best.
One thing is for sure: Church believes in Elliott and what he brings to the table as a running back.
“We’ll see what happens, but he has all the talent in the world.”