Ezekiel Elliott didn’t take long to answer when asked the last time he was held to single-digit rushing yards in a game.
“Never,” Elliott said.
Until Sunday afternoon.
The Denver Broncos’ defense made the league’s reigning rushing champion irrelevant in a 42-17 rout of the Cowboys at Mile High.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Elliott rushed for fewer yards than carries (eight yards on nine carries) on a forgettable night. Elliott and the Cowboys’ talented offensive line looked nothing like the rushing attack the organization has come to expect.
Elliott’s nine carries went for 0, 3, 2, 0, -5, 0, 2, 1 and 5 yards. The longest of his four receptions was a 9-yard gain coming late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s Week 2,” Elliott said. “We had a rough one. We definitely didn’t play up to our ability. We just got to go back and watch the film of this and rebuild. Make sure that we’re getting better.”
Asked how he can shake off a performance of this nature, Elliott said: “[Shoot], just got to go to work. You can’t forget about it. You got to evaluate what happened and you got to build on it.”
Elliott made no excuses for the dreadful performance. He answered “no” when asked if his off-field issues affected his on-field play.
Elliott is in a legal battle with the NFL over a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. His status going forward remains a week-to-week issue.
Owner Jerry Jones expects Elliott to play in next Monday night’s game at Arizona, but wouldn’t speculate for the rest of the season.
“I don’t know about that, but I sure think he’ll play Monday night,” Jones said.
Jones, like most who watched the game, was surprised by how ineffective Elliott and the Cowboys’ running game became against a Broncos defense that ranked fifth-worst in the league in 2016.
After all, Elliott is a guy who led the league with 1,631 yards a season ago. He averaged more than 5 yards a carry. His worst average per carry a season ago was 2.6 in his NFL debut against the New York Giants.
Elliott averaged just 0.9 yards per carry against the Broncos. This was unforeseen considering Elliott topped the 100-yard mark and averaged more than 4 yards a carry in this year’s season-opening win over the Giants.
“It is the first time that I’ve seen us play when Zeke was as neutralized as he was today,” Jones said. “This was a first for me to see it. Well, for anybody. And, yes, you’ve got to give them credit. They took away the play-action and they took away some of our ability to move. Do we have the ability to adjust and go to other things? Sure we do. Again, I’ll say this again, it’s not us.”
Added coach Jason Garrett: “They were loading up to stop the run. That was going to be their style of defense. They had a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage. They were loading up the box. ... We needed to have some success throwing the ball to get them out of that defense. We were not able to do that on a consistent basis.”
Elliott and the Cowboys are confident they’ll be able to bounce back against Arizona. This isn’t a unit that is going to throw in the towel after one poor showing.
“We definitely won’t be discouraged,” Elliott said. “Last year at this time we were 1-1. It’s a 16-game season and it’s only Game 2. We can get so much better. If you’re peaking right now, you’re going to have a problem. You don’t want to peak right now, you want to peak at the end of the season and get rolling. We just can’t come out like this.
“It’s a little bump in the road. We got to learn from this and get better.”