FRISCO, Texas – The storyline is already there, regardless of Ezekiel Elliott's preference. But that doesn't mean he has to play into it.
Among the numerous narratives swirling around Saturday's showdown at the L.A. Coliseum, one stands above the rest. The game will pit the Dallas Cowboys against the Los Angeles Rams – but it will also be a showcase for the best two backs in the NFL: Elliott and Todd Gurley.
As if this matchup needed more intrigue, that fact alone will provide it. Elliott heads into the weekend with 1,571 rushing yards and has already claimed his second career rushing title.
Gurley has missed the last two rushing titles by close margins, but he likely takes solace in his 30 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons and his two consecutive first-team All-Pro selections.
"He's just a guy who has a really well-rounded game and doesn't really have any weaknesses," Elliott said.
All of that is true, and – as reporters pointed out – it also sounds a lot like Elliott's own resume. The duo's presence on the field should only up the ante on Saturday night. But Elliott wasn't interested in talking accolades this week, only wins.
"I think we both go in with the same mindset – playoff football, it's about the team. It's not really about individuals. It's about trying to go get that Super Bowl," he said. "Yes, it's going to be great facing off against him, but I'm not going to put too much emphasis on that."
Elliott and Gurley have both racked up a lot of accolades in these early stages of their careers, but that's not really the point. Whether they want to admit it or not, both the Rams' and the Cowboys' hopes of winning the Super Bowl hinge on their Pro Bowl running backs – both of whom serve as the focal point of their offenses.
"Both teams like to run the ball, obviously both offenses are better when they do run the ball successfully," said Zack Martin. "It's no surprise we're going to try to run it and it's not surprise they're going to try to run it. It's just whoever executes better."
The Rams technically executed better than the Cowboys in that department this season. Gurley and Co. finished third in the league in rushing, averaging 139 yards per game compared to the Cowboys' 122. Gurley also fared much better near the end zone, finishing with 17 touchdowns in the regular season to Elliott's six.
Gurley has been slowed in the last month of the season, though. He injured his knee in December and sat out the final two games of the regular season.
As might be expected, the production margin between the two is skewed because of that. Since
Week 13, Elliott has carried the ball 90 times for 422 yards, sitting out the regular season finale to rest for the playoffs. In the same span, Gurley has appeared in just three games, carrying the ball 46 times for 208 yards.
Asked about that, though, Elliott said it's way more important to be healthy than rusty.
"I think everyone is a little bit different," he said. "I'm sure it might be a little bit tough for him to get back in the groove. It might not be. But I just think it was really important for him to get healthy for the playoff."
Rams coach Sean McVay said he expects Gurley to be good to go for the weekend, as he was expected to practice fully this week. If that's the case, it'll be a treat to have two of the NFL's best at their full powers for the playoffs.
In a "win or go home" situation, just don't worry about the stats.
"Stats – I don't think they really matter," Elliott said. "The regular season is over, it's a whole different ball game. This is playoff football. I think all that stuff gets thrown out the window."