“He has everything you want in a running back,” Garrett said ahead of Saturday's divisional showdown with the the Los Angeles Rams. “He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s explosive. He’s strong, has great instincts for the game, great feel for the game, outstanding vision. He can beat you with speed. He can beat you with power. He can beat you cutting back. He can beat you when they hand him the ball. He can beat you when they throw him the ball. He plays with a competitive spirit.”
In this case, “he” referred to Gurley. But Garrett quickly realized those words fit the Cowboys' Elliott, too.
“In some ways, I probably did describe Ezekiel Elliott,” Garrett said, smiling. “Both big-time players who can do everything you want them to do on the field, and embrace carrying the burden for their team.”
Standing barefoot outside the locker room on a small podium Wednesday, Elliott downplayed the notion that the winner of Saturday’s matchup between the Cowboys and Rams (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox) could be decided by which back puts forth the most dynamic performance. But for a team like the Cowboys, built on running the ball and playing solid defense, it could really be that simple.
Especially when considering the Rams surrendered a league-worst 5.1 yards per rush this season, including 3.1 yards before contact, which ranks as second-worst in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams also gave up the second-highest total QBR (72) on passes to running backs during the season.
“We both go in with the same mindset,” said Elliott, who grew up a Rams fan. “[It’s] playoff football. It’s about the team, it’s not really about individuals. It’s about trying to go get that Super Bowl. Yes, it’s going to be great facing him. But I’m not going to put too much emphasis on that.”
Gurley might have a harder time gaining ground on the Cowboys, who allowed just 3.8 yards per carry, which was the fifth-lowest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Dallas allowed a league-low 2.02 yards per rush before contact. The Seahawks led the NFL in rushing, yet averaged just 3.0 yards per rush against Dallas in their wild-card loss.
Coming off his second rushing title in three years, Elliott rushed 26 times for 137 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, and the Cowboys own a record of 16-3 when the running back reaches 100 or more yards on the ground. As the focal point of Dallas’ offense, Elliott has tallied at least 20 touches in nine consecutive games, the longest streak of his career, and he’s averaged nearly 30 touches over his last eight games.
The Cowboys handed off to Elliott 20 times in eight games this season, including the wild-card game, and racked up a record of 7-1 in those outings.
“He's got the ability to go through you or go around you with speed,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He's truly a complete back and you could see that a lot of what they do is predicated on just him getting a bunch of touches.”
Although Los Angeles struggled against the run, the Cowboys know the Rams' defensive line, featuring tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh along with defensive end Michael Brockers, can be a disruptive force.
Elliott pointed to “big 99 in the middle (Donald)” when asked about the challenge the Rams present on defense.
Guard Zack Martin doesn't deny that Dallas wants to “run the football, play good defense” against the Rams, but said padding Elliott's stats is the least of the Cowboys' concerns.
“Zeke would say it, too: the most important thing is to try to get the win,” Martin said. “Whatever that entails offensively, whatever we can do to help us win is what we want to do. It speaks to him and how much he cares not only about the team, but about winning. He’s got no ego in this thing. Of course it’s great to have yards and all that. But he cares about one thing and that’s winning.”
Elliott proved that in the wild-card victory over the Seahawks. Without the ball in his hands, he served as the lead blocker on two Dak Prescott runs, including the 16-yard quarterback draw to the Seattle 1 that helped seal the victory.
“When Zeke has the ball, he’s an amazing player,” guard Connor Williams said. “But even when he doesn’t have the ball, he’s an amazing player as well.”
Added Martin: “Everybody knows what he does with the ball, but I think in that Seattle game, the quarterback sweep we ran with Zeke as the lead blocker, even the last quarterback draw Zeke was the lead blocker. When you have an All-Pro running back leading the league in rushing willing to be a lead blocker, it’s pretty special.”
Elliott needs 23 yards to move past Don Perkins (262 yards) for the eighth-most postseason rushing yards in Cowboys history, and with 74 yards, he’ll pull past Calvin Hill (335) for seventh. If Elliott hits the century mark against the Rams, it would mark the running back’s third career postseason 100-yard rushing performance, which would break a tie with Duane Thomas and Tony Dorsett for the second-most 100-yard rushing games in the postseason in franchise history.
Gurley and Elliott ranked one-two in scrimmage yards over the past two seasons.
“What stands out is the consistency, play in and play out,” McVay said of Elliott. “He’s one of those guys that gets stronger as the game progresses where he’s getting about 30 touches a game. You see the great job he’s done in the pass game. He’ll stick his face on people in protection. He’s got the ability to make you miss. He’s got the ability to go through you, run away from you. He’s got a great stiff arm. He’s one of the most complete backs in this league, and it shows up week in and week out.”
McVay could just as easily have been describing Gurley.
Asked what he admires about Gurley, Elliott said: “Just his versatility. He’s a big, fast back. He can run inside. He can run outside. He can run through you, jump over you, around you, make you miss. He’s a great asset out of the backfield; just a guy who has a well-rounded game and really doesn’t have any weaknesses.”
Told by a reporter the running back was describing himself, Elliott tilted his head right and smiled.
“Something like that,” he said.