GREEN BAY, Wis. – "Ridiculous" was the word Mike Daniels used.
It was just moments after the Green Bay Packers defensive tackle was part of a group effort that allowed the Dallas Cowboys to rush for 191 yards in their Week 6 win at Lambeau Field. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott accounted for 157 of that.
“We’re better than that, and we just have to show that,” Daniels said after the Packers’ 30-16 loss on Oct. 16.
Their chance to do so comes now, and the stakes have been raised when the two teams meet again in an NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
The Packers’ defenders had their chests puffed out with pride heading into the first meeting with the Cowboys. And why not? They held their first four opponents to a combined 171 yards rushing – the second-fewest through four games in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Elliott nearly bettered that by himself in a single game. Dom Capers’ defense fell from first to third against the run afterward. Twice after that, they regained the top spot, and although they never fell out of the top 10, they finished eighth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (94.7).
Yes, it was the Packers’ highest ranking against the run since Capers’ first season of 2009, when they led the league, but after their near-historic start, it had to be considered a bit of a disappointment.
All of that could change if they shut down – or at least limit – Elliott and the Cowboys. The rookie first-round pick won the NFL rushing title, and it wasn’t even close. His 1,631 yards were more than 300 better than runner-up Jordan Howard, the Chicago Bears rookie. The Cowboys finished No. 2 in rushing yards as a team, averaging 149.8 per game.
“Do you see those offensive linemen?” Packers cornerback Damarious Randall said this week, standing in front of his locker. “They’ve got three Pro Bowlers over there, and the other two just probably missed it. That left tackle they’ve got is as big as this locker, and I’m pretty sure he runs just as good as me. He looks like it on film.
“And then you can’t take credit away from Zeke. I mean, Zeke has been running through holes and breaking them long, long runs that you ask for a running back to break. That’s what has their offense rolling.”
So is it Elliott or the line?
“It’s both,” Packers rookie defensive tackle Kenny Clark said.
Said Packers linebacker Jake Ryan: “He’s a great back, very dynamic. He hits the holes very well and is tough to slow down. He’s a good downhill runner. The offensive line does a hell of a job and we saw that the first game.”
The Packers handled the New York Giants' runners in last week’s wild-card game, holding the duo of Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings to a combined 59 yards on 15 carries, but New York came in with the fourth-worst running game in the league.
But rankings may not matter much; they didn’t for the Packers in the first meeting.
“Everybody would be proud of being No. 1 in anything,” Clark said. “But at the end of the day, when challenges like that, it was the No. 1 rushing defense versus the No. 1 rushing offense.”