FRISCO, Texas – It's No. 1 against No. 1.
Just as Week 5 centered on the Cowboys' decorated offensive line against the Cincinnati Bengals' stout defensive front, the pivotal matchup this Sunday at Lambeau Field pits the Cowboys' top-ranked running game against the Green Bay Packers' top-ranked run defense.
The unit that controls the line of scrimmage could decide Sunday's game.
"Always excited for a challenge. That's what competitors love, to go out there and be challenged," Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said.
Elliott, the Cowboys' dynamic first-round pick, leads the NFL in rushing through five games. With strong blocking up front, he set a team record against the Bengals as the first Cowboys rookie to gain at least 100 yards in three straight games.
The Packers, meanwhile, have allowed fewer than two yards per carry (1.99), under 50 yards per game (42.8) and only one rushing touchdown in four games.
Just a year ago, Green Bay ranked 21st in run defense with 119.1 yards allowed per game and 4.5 yards allowed per carry. This year, led by defensive tackle Mike Daniels up front, the defense is one of two teams that hasn't yielded a run over 20 yards.
"They're really good in their base defense when they play their 3-4 and they're awfully good when they play their nickel personnel," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "They have really active defensive linemen. They're active on the edges. The linebackers are around the football. They're just a very good defensive team and they stop the run really, really well."
At a historic pace. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Packers have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards through four games (171) since the NFL began keeping track in 1933.
That's a stark contrast to the Cowboys' league-leading rushing yards (776) and rushing touchdowns (11). Anchored by Elliott, the offense has scored on 14 of 15 drives of five-or-more minutes this season, most in the league.
This past Sunday, the offensive line set a physical tone against the Bengals' Pro Bowl defensive line with four runs in the first seven plays, capped by Elliott's 13-yard touchdown.
The challenge gets tougher this Sunday.
"I think we just focus on us," center Travis Frederick said. "I think we take what they do just like we do every week and we try to figure out ways that we work around that and work into that and focus on doing the things that we do and being able to execute."[embeddedad0]
Through five games, Elliott has nearly two-thirds of the Cowboys' 169 carries (109), followed by Alfred Morris' 30. He gained 134 yards on only 15 carries against the Bengals, aided by a career-high 60-yard touchdown.
No matter how many touches he gets Sunday, an efficient run game would help rookie quarterback Dak Prescott stay in manageable down and distance in a tough road environment.
"It's a team you've got to be fundamentally sound and you've got to be physical, and you've just got to bring it to them," Elliott said.