Week 13 Players To Watch: Cowboys vs. Saints
And on Sunday, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott rested.
Some might say the Cowboys need a miracle to beat the New Orleans Saints on Thursday at A&T Stadium.
Short of that they will need to play a perfect game to beat the Saints, who have the best record in NFL which they’ve achieved by winning 10 straight.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said if they aren’t the best team in the NFL they are playing “as good as it gets” on offense, averaging a league-leading 37.2 points per game. That includes scoring barrages of 45, 41, 48 and 31 in the month of October.
The Saints have scored less than 30 points just once this season.
So while the Cowboys are feeling good and playing well riding a three-game winning streak, they have no interest in getting in an offensive shootout.
Dallas has scored more than 30 points just twice this season and has six games in which its scored 20 or less.
What the Cowboys plan on doing is try to limit possessions and play keep away with a ball control ground game led by Elliott.
“If you are able to possess that ball, that keeps their playmakers on the sidelines,” Garrett said. “That is something we would like to be able to do. You want to be efficient. You want to able to convert third downs and stay on the field. And make sure those guys are standing over there. They are great players. They are awfully explosive when they get the chance to get out on the field. That is one of the ways you can minimize them.”
In other words, get ready for a lot of Zeke, who is in the midst of the best three-game stretch of his career and feels like he is only getting stronger.
Elliott has rushed for 100 yards in each of the past three games to take over the NFL rushing lead and has a career-best 531 yards rushing and receiving to during that span.
“I don’t think you have to play perfect. That is nearly impossible,” Elliott said. “I don’t think it’s going to take perfection. It’s going to take for us to come out there and play physical. Play our style of football and compete. We have to make sure are continue to do what we have been doing. Same approach we have had the past three weeks.”
So it was no surprise that while the team worked on Sunday as they began their preparation for the Saints, Elliott took the day off to rest his body due to hip soreness. He notched 86 touches during a three-game stretch over 12 days, all wins against the Philadelphia Eagles (27-20), Atlanta Falcons (22-19) and Washington Redskins (31-23).
“Just making sure that we’re taking care of my body so I’m fresh going into this game Thursday night,” Elliott said.
If Elliott can continue that streak and the Cowboys can do the impossible by beating the Saints, he can also put himself in the thick of the NFL MVP race, joining Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Elliott said he is ready to continue to carry the load. He is getting stronger and hitting his stride.
“I am. I think we got some momentum in this running game and the offensive line is playing great up front,” Elliott said. “We have been able to run the ball at will the past couple of games. We have to make sure we don’t take any steps back and continue to execute and play well.
“I feel like I am in a good place right now. I feel like I am very comfortable with these schemes we have been calling. Coaches have done a great job putting me in runs where I am comfortable and getting me going early and letting me get that momentum and carry it through the game.”
Garrett said the Cowboys plan to build on that momentum and continue to ride Elliott as they always have.
They rode him to a 13-3 record as a rookie in 2016 when he led the league with 1,631 yards rushing. They rode him as much as they could in 2017 when he led the league in rushes per game and rushing yards per game, despite missing six games due to an NFL suspension.
And they are riding him now as a runner and a receiver. He leads the Cowboys and the league in yards (1,074) and carries (217) but also leads the team in catches (47) and passing targets (62).
The last running back to lead the Cowboys in receptions was Ritchie Anderderson with 69 in 2003.
Elliott is currently on pace for 68 catches and 1,562 yrds rushing which would rival Emmitt Smith’s MVP season in 1995 when ld the league in rushing with1,773 yards and had 62 catches.
“He has been a really good player right from the start for us and he has carried a big burden for us from the start,” Garrett said. “We like to give him the ball. We like to throw him the ball. He has always responded well to it. He too is one of those where teams come into the game saying ‘we got to make sure we control No. 21’. He consistently comes up with plays and a performance that allows us to have success.”
If he has that success on Thursday and the Cowboys beat the Saints, Cowboys fans need to start those MVP chants at AT&T Stadium.
Ezekiel Elliott has put together the best three-game stretch of his career, compiling 531 total yards from scrimmage during the Cowboys’ win streak: