Dallas Cowboys

Stopping Elliott, Cowboys run game a top priority for Packers

The Cowboys will have to contend with veteran defensive end Julius Peppers, 36, who stripped former Dallas running back DeMarco Murray in a pivotal play early in the third quarter of the Packers’ playoff victory two years ago.
The Cowboys will have to contend with veteran defensive end Julius Peppers, 36, who stripped former Dallas running back DeMarco Murray in a pivotal play early in the third quarter of the Packers’ playoff victory two years ago. Star-Telegram archives

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t let a car wreck keep him from football practice as a 7-year-old, as his mom shared a story on social media of a young Elliott grabbing his helmet and pads and running to practice after she had been T-boned.

It’s no different for the 21-year-old Elliott, who has become an NFL star with the Dallas Cowboys.

Elliott was involved in a minor fender bender early Wednesday near the Cowboys’ practice facility, but took the field with his teammates a couple hours later.

“I’m fine. I’m healthy. I’m good,” Elliott said afterward. “It’s like nothing happened. My car is messed up, that’s about it.”

Elliott had no interest in discussing his accident in detail, instead focusing on football and the Green Bay Packers coming to town for a divisional round matchup on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

Elliott is arguably the biggest factor going into the game. The Cowboys pride themselves on being a run-first team behind Elliott, and the Packers are well aware of the importance of containing him.

Green Bay didn’t do it when it faced Elliott on Oct. 16 in a 30-16 victory for Dallas.

“I could go down the list of what they excel at on offense, but obviously it starts with stopping the run,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Great running back, great offensive line, really — so, we’ll have our work cut out for us, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Elliott gashed the Packers for 157 yards on 28 carries. Going into the game, the Packers had the top-ranked run defense while allowing only 42.8 yards a game.

But Elliott and the Cowboys had no trouble establishing the run. As a team, the Cowboys finished with 191 yards on 33 carries.

“That was when I was starting to get really rolling,” Elliott said. “We’ve just got to watch that film and see what made me so successful in that game.”

Green Bay, on the other hand, feels much more confident in its ability to slow down Elliott this time around.

This is a team that has played better down the stretch with seven consecutive wins. It finished the season ranked eighth in rushing defense (94.7) and held the New York Giants to only 70 rushing yards in the wild-card round on Sunday.

As nose tackle Letroy Guion said, “Packers are doing good right now, so let’s go. [Elliott] is doing a good job, hats off to the rookie, but Pack coming to town, baby.”

Elliott acknowledged that the Packers are playing better than when the teams met earlier this season, although he and the Cowboys’ offensive line won’t be short on confidence.

The Cowboys pride themselves in being a physical team and setting a tone early in games. They love the idea of wearing a defense down by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.

“There’s nothing like going out there and playing four quarters of tough football,” Elliott said. “There’s nothing better than seeing you take your opponent’s will. I mean, that fourth quarter and start taking those big runs.”

Outside of that, Elliott also must protect the football. It’s something he has done well all season, losing only two fumbles in Week 2 at Washington.

One of the most pivotal plays in the Packers’ victory over the Cowboys two years ago in this playoff round was when veteran defensive end Julius Peppers stripped former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray early in the third quarter.

The Packers turned that into a field goal and cut the deficit to 14-13.

Peppers, 36, continued to be a thorn in the Cowboys’ side in October as the only player who sacked quarterback Dak Prescott.

“You want to improve throughout the season and I think that’s where we’re at,” Peppers said after he recorded another sack in the wild-card game against the Giants.

“At the midway point we had a rough stretch, but we stood tall. We trusted the process and I think now we’re better because of it.”

We’ll find out Sunday how that translates in regards to the Cowboys’ running game.

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

DIVISIONAL ROUND

Saturday, Jan. 14

NFC — Seahawks (10-5-1) at Falcons (11-5), 3:35 p.m., KDFW/4

AFC — Texans (9-7) at Patriots (14-2), 7:15 p.m., KTVT/11

Sunday, Jan. 15

AFC — Steelers (11-5) at Chiefs (12-4), 12:05 p.m., KXAS/5

NFC — Packers (10-6) at Cowboys (13-3), 3:40 p.m., KDFW/4

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