Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott talks playoff football
He is excited about Saturday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams because he knows it will be a star-studded affair on and off the field.
“It’s going to be a good show,” Elliott said.
It goes without saying the Elliott will share the veritable marquee outside of the Los Angeles Coliseum with Rams running back Todd Gurley in what will be the game’s featured showdown.
No one in the league has rushed for more yards since Gurley was drafted 10th overall by the Rams in 2015. And no one has rushed for more yards since Elliott was drafted fourth by the Cowboys in 2016.
Elliott won his second rushing title in three years with 1,434 yards in 2018. Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-leading 21 touchdowns rushing and receiving. Gurley was named first-team All-Pro. Elliott was named to the second team.
Both were selected to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl, which neither player necessarily wants to play in because it would mean their seasons were cut short before the Super Bowl.
To that end, Elliott said they have similar styles and priorities heading into a matchup that will put their respective team’s one win away from the ultimate show.
“I think we both go in with the same mindset,” Elliott said. “Playoff football; it’s about the team, it’s not really about individuals. It’s about trying to get that Super Bowl. Yes, it’s going to be great facing against him. But I’m not going to put too much emphasis on that.”
Elliott, however, admittedly admires watching Gurley play because he is a complete back who can do it all as a runner and a receiver.
“He’s a big, fast back,” Elliott said. “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.”
Rams coach Todd McVay and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett both said Gurley and Elliott are mirror images in terms of their styles, versatility, and impact. They expect both to play a big factor on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“When you look at Zeke, I think he’s similar to Todd — one of the most complete backs in the league, extremely productive,” McVay said. “I think he’s got the ability to go through you or go around you with speed. He’s gotten a lot more involved in the pass game this year. I think 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.”
Said Garrett of Gurley: “He’s just a great football player. He has everything you want in a running back. 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’s great run after the catch. He plays with a competitive spirit. He’s just a fantastic player.”
He then followed with: “In some ways, I probably did describe Ezekiel Elliott. Both big-time players who can do everything you want them to do on the field and embrace carrying the burden for their team.”
The burden has been bigger for Elliott in 2018 in a season that has come without the distractions of 2017 when he battled the NFL in federal court for eight weeks before missing six games with an NFL suspension.
Elliott not only led the league in rushing for the second time in three years but also led the Cowboys in receiving with a career-high 77 catches, a new club-record for receptions by a running back as his roles and responsibilities were increased.
Elliott said being a well-rounded back has always been important to him. He takes as much pride in his blocking as he does with his runs and receptions.
It did not go unnoticed by his teammates that Elliott was the lead blocker on two big runs by quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth quarter of the 24-22 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card game last Saturday. He took out linebacker K.J. Wright on a 9-yard run that led to the go-ahead score. He also ran interference on a 16-yard run that helped seal the victory.
“Obviously, everyone knows what he does with the ball,” guard Zack Martin said. “In the Seattle game, that quarterback sweep we ran with Zeke as the lead blocker, even the last quarterback draw we ran Zeke was the lead blocker. So when you have an All-Pro running back leading the league in rushing willing to be a lead blocker it’s pretty special.
“That’s how we drew it up. He knew the whole week he’d be the leader blocker out there and there was going to be a big old linebacker and he did whatever it took to get him down and made a really huge block and made the play.”
Elliott was willing to make the play because he has always been willing to do whatever it takes to be a complete football player to help the team win.
So while he understands that out-dueling Gurley in their personal battle might go a long way toward helping the Cowboys win the game and get to the NFC title game for the first time in 23 years, he has his sights set on something bigger — like the team’s first Super Bowl title since 1995.
“It’d mean a lot to accomplish that, especially here with the Dallas Cowboys,” Elliott said about leading the Cowboys to the conference title game. “But our goal is not to get back to the NFC Championship. It’s to get to a Super Bowl and win. So that’d be cool, but we want to win a Super Bowl.”
Gurley likely feels the same way.
Rams RB Todd Gurley Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
Attempts 256 304
Yards 1,251 1,435
TDs 17 6
Catches 59 77
Yards 580 567
TDs 4 3