Ezekiel Elliott has never seen anything quite like this before in his football life. When the Dallas Cowboys face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they'll do so with their fourth different starting quarterback this season, on the heels of after missing the previous game with a concussion. The 2020 season has been an abject disaster for the Cowboys, lacking an offseason to acclimate a new coaching regime to its players and having lost a laundry list of top talent due to injury -- headlined by a season-ending broken ankle on Dak Prescott.
With neither Prescott nor Dalton available, the Cowboys must choose between rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci or give the nod to one of two veterans in Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush (the latter two splitting first-team reps in practice), and we're going to use the word "veterans" very loosely here, which we'll get to in a second. This will mark the third time since 2000 that the team will be forced into four QBs in a single year, with the previous two occasions as follows:
2001: Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner
2015: Tony Romo, Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden
They went on to finish with a 5-11 record in 2001 and landed face down at 4-12 in 2015, strong hints as to where 2020 is headed.
For Elliott, who's taken 99 percent of his career NFL snaps with Prescott leading into 2020, seeing the Cowboys cascade down the QB depth chart is quite the ride.
"No, I haven't been through a season with four quarterbacks," he told media on Wednesday. "Actually, in college, when [Ohio State] won a national championship, we actually went through three. That was a little different. No, this is the first time."
As for the Cowboys looking to go with a more experienced signal-caller against the undefeated and visceral Steelers defense, it's key to note while both Gilbert and Rush have been in the league a combined 11 seasons through a total of nine teams, there's only 47 total offensive NFL snaps between them and 42 career passing yards. DiNucci has literally twice as many snaps in only three games, already logging 94 game reps for Dallas, which means, technically, he's the more experienced one, along with having more than five times the career yardage (219) than the two veterans combined (42).
This is as awkward as it is tragic, at this point.
In the meantime, the merry-go-round at the position plays a large part in the downturn of Elliott's production this year, to an equal degree as seeing the offensive line allow Dalton and DiNucci to have their lunch money stolen on every other play. For while there's a carousel of QBs funneling in almost weekly at this point, the o-line itself has been decimated by injury as well, and the unit as a whole is allowing tremendous amounts of pressure on Cowboys quarterbacks. In the last three games, Dalton and DiNucci have been sacked seven times a piece, hit and hurried many more.
Undrafted rookie Terence Steele has been a matador at right tackle -- allowing seven pressures and three sacks in Week 7 alone -- but head coach Mike McCarthy . What this all means for Elliott is simple, as the Cowboys lack a threat at QB to keep opposing defenses from throwing the kitchen sink at stopping him, along with the lack of talent up front (Martin notwithstanding) to create lanes for him to run through.
He's also cleaned up the fumble issues, having not put the ball on the ground once in his last two outings. And despite all of the variables before him being objectively obvious, the two-time All-Pro running back isn't eyeing what's going wrong for him right now, but is instead focused on the team figuring out how to get a third victory.
"I mean, honestly, [things getting harder for me each week] is not really something I'm worried about," he said. "I'm more worried about us winning football games. I could [not] care less about individual achievements and stats right now. We're 2-6. My main focus right is just trying to win a football game.
"... It's been tough, definitely. We're 2-6, so obviously it's been tough. But this is football. We can't really use injuries, guys rotating in and out every week, as an excuse. We have one job and that's to go win the ballgame, so we have to figure that out."