FRISCO, Texas – It doesn’t happen often, but Jason Garrett definitely had the line of the day.
The Cowboys’ head coach is famously measured in his responses to reporters. But in speaking about the Detroit Lions’ commitment to stopping Ezekiel Elliott, he landed a nice line on Monday evening.
“They were loaded up against the run — the whole city of Detroit is around the line of scrimmage,” Garrett joked.
For clarity’s sake, Garrett was speaking specifically about the end-of-game scenario, when the Cowboys were holding a 35-27 lead and trying to milk the final 1:54 of game clock. The Lions’ focus on stopping the run was so complete that Blake Jarwin leaked into the flat and sealed the game on a play action pass from Dak Prescott.
“He gave him a good place to throw the football, Dak delivered with a guy in his face and Blake did a good job of staying in bounds and getting down, which allowed us to kneel the ball,” Garrett said.
All of that said, it might as well have been a theme for the entire afternoon. With a history of leaky performances against the run, the Lions loaded up and made it a priority to limit the running game – and limit they did. Elliott scored his seventh touchdown of the season during the win, but he finished with just 45 yards on 16 carries. It was only the seventh time in his career he’s been held below three yards per carry.
“There was a real commitment to stop the run,” Garrett said. “A lot of guys were on the line of scrimmage. And that certainly was a focal point of their defensive approach.”
This is becoming a trend, given that the Minnesota Vikings approached things similarly and held Elliott to 47 yards.
Of course, the obvious flip side is that it’s not necessarily hold the Dallas offense back. Dak Prescott has thrown for 841 yards the last two weeks, highlighted by a 444-yard, three-touchdown performance to pull out the win in Detroit.
Prescott has been impressive all season long, but these last two performances seem to signal a shift. For years, it has spelled doom when Elliott has either been unavailable or unproductive. But in his fourth season, the Cowboys’ quarterback may have reached a level where he can offset that.
In the wake of that 28-24 loss to Minnesota, there was plenty of talk that the Cowboys didn’t lean enough on that ability. Who can say if they listened to it, but they certainly made the Lions pay for their run-oriented focus.
“You try to be persistent running the football,” Garrett said. “But at the same time, you have to be willing to say, ‘OK, if you’re going to do that, we’re going to do this,’ and throw the football and we were able to do that effectively.”
It’s interesting to think where this twist takes things. Prescott has been a good quarterback for years, but this element of his game is a bit new. He has only surpassed 350 passing yards on six occasions in his career, and four of those have come this season.
Surely, if he keeps torching people, then teams will shift their focus off of Elliott. And if that happens, it presents quite a challenge for opposing defenses.
Perhaps that’s why, even after another uncustomary performance from the ground game, Garrett doesn’t sound especially worried about Elliott just yet.
“Even a game like that, when the running game is a little bit more challenging, you look at all those really good three, four, five, six-yard runs that he made throughout the game,” Garrett said. “He’s just a damn good player and obviously a big play on the screen for us to cash in on that third-down situation down in the red zone. We think a lot of him. He’s a big part of what we’re doing.”