Officially speaking, the Cowboys made just one minor roster move on Saturday. But reading between the lines, it answers a major question heading into Sunday’s NFC showdown with the 8-1 Vikings.
Dallas elevated offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley from the practice squad to the active gameday roster. As Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News points out, it’s the third time Shepley has been elevated since signing with the club just before the start of the regular season. If the Cowboys are to use him again beyond Week 11, they will have to award him a full-time roster spot.
But the bigger news, perhaps, is what it says that Shepley was the only practice squad elevation.
The Cowboys did not move up running back Qadree Ollison as they had done in their previous two outings. And that seems to be a pretty clear signal that- unlike in Week 8 versus Chicago and Week 10 against Green Bay- lead back Ezekiel Elliott will suit up and play in Minnesota.
Elliott has missed the Cowboys’ last two games with a hyperextended knee, suffered in Week 7’s win over Detroit. He has been practicing with a knee brace, and he says he plans to wear it at U.S. Bank Stadium for the important matchup that quarterback Dak Prescott characterized as “a playoff game.”
The Vikings are allowing a middle-of-the-road 118.3 rushing yards per game; Dallas is averaging 134.6 yards per game on the ground. In the two games Elliott sat out, Tony Pollard set career highs in carries (22) in Week 10 as well as rushing yards (131) and rushing touchdowns (three) in Week 8.
Elliott has just 443 rushing yards so far this season, but the team maintains that his return will bring more than just an extra set of legs to the offensive backfield.
Elliott’s bruising style of play “rubs off on guys,” guard Zack Martin told reporters this week. “I think [the combo of both Elliott and Pollard] gives us something. When you get smacked in the mouth a few times by 21, you’re going to be breaking down in the hole trying to to make a tackle.”
By not elevating Ollison from the practice squad, the Cowboys appear to be prepping for Elliott to get back to his mouth-smacking ways in Minneapolis.