FRISCO, Texas – The last time Ezekiel Elliott carried the football in game action – the fourth quarter Oct. 8 against the Packers – he gained 85 of his 116 total rushing yards in the Cowboys' last-second loss.
Without question, it was the offense's most productive stretch in the running game this season. Elliott had 35 rushing yards on that 17-play touchdown drive that lasted nearly nine minutes and gave Dallas the lead with just over a minute remaining.
"I think we were definitely in a groove," he said. "That's the closest we've looked like to last year as we've been this season."
Elliott and the Cowboys will try to maintain that momentum Sunday against a 49ers defense that has played the run better than the statistics indicate.
San Francisco ranks 18th in run defense, allowing 112.8 yards per game. But they're allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, tied for the third-lowest average in the NFL. And they have forced 19 minus-runs by opponents, tied for the third-most in the league.
The Redskins averaged 2.8 yards per carry in a 26-24 over San Francisco last Sunday.
The 49ers released veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman last week, a fixture in their run defense for the last decade. But they could get dynamic rookie Reuben Foster back from a high ankle sprain this Sunday.
"He was a great college football player, obviously one of the best players on one of the best teams in Alabama the last few years," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "We studied him hard, we liked him a lot (before the draft). It doesn't surprise us one bit he was drafted as high as he was, and he'll be an impact player for them."
Elliott's offensive talents transformed the Cowboys' offense in 2016. One of his early breakout games came against San Francisco last October, when he gained 138 yards – his fourth-best total of the season – and averaged 6.0 yards per carry.
The Green Bay game two weeks ago demonstrated how Elliott's success in the run game lifts the entire operation. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for three touchdowns and completed passes to eight different receivers.
"I think our balance is going to be key to our offense," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
San Francisco's defensive scheme has changed under first-year coordinator Robert Saleh. The results have been impressive.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys hope they've found a rhythm with the foundation of their offense.