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How Containing Zeke Was Rams' Top Priority


LOS ANGELES – Ezekiel Elliott heard the numbers all week. He knew better.

The Rams, despite statistical evidence to the contrary, presented a major challenge to the Cowboys' run game.

Saturday night, L.A. went to great lengths to slow down Dallas' offensive engine.

Elliott, the NFL's 2018 rushing champ, had 20 carries for only 47 yards in the Cowboys' 30-22 divisional-round playoff loss – his second-lowest yardage of the season behind a 33-yard total in an October loss to Washington.

So much for the Rams' league-worst ranking in run yards allowed per carry during the regular season (5.1).

"We played against a really good front," Elliott told reporters after the game. "You guys kept asking me about stats and 5.1 yards a carry all week and I told y'all it's playoff football, none of that matters anymore.

"That defense didn't play that way today. They did a great job winning the battle up front and stopping the run."

Star defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh clogged up running lanes all game long. But the Rams also devoted extra resources to crowding Elliott. They stayed in their base defense even when the Cowboys tried to spread them out with three-receiver sets.

"That gave us some opportunities in the passing game that we were able to take advantage of," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Obviously we're at our best when we're balanced and we're throwing it and running it. But they were committed to stopping the run and we had to run them out of that. At times we did a good job of that."

Said Cowboys guard Zack Martin: "They played a lot of base to our sub, so it was kind of tough sledding there in the run game. But we just have to execute better. We've got to get Zeke to the second level."

The offense collectively couldn't find a rhythm in the first half, running only 23 plays to the Rams' 45. In the third quarter, Elliott's 1-yard touchdown trimmed the deficit to 23-15 and the Dallas defense forced the Rams to punt for the first time.

But on the opening play of the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-1 from the 35, Elliott got stopped for no gain.

The Rams scored a touchdown on the next series to make the score 30-15, and the Cowboys ran out of time trying to catch up.

Elliott had converted two previous fourth-and-1 tries that led to touchdowns. Not this time.

"It's been a signature play for us," Garrett said. "We've been very successful over the years with that idea, double teaming at the point of attack and giving Zeke a chance to make the yard. He's done that time and time again throughout his career and they did a good job stopping us on that one."