FRISCO, Texas - Yes, it would be a fair statement to make if you said that the Cowboys' face a tall order in trying to successfully run the football against the San Francisco 49ers come this Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round.
During the course of the regular season, the Cowboys rushed for the ninth-most yards per game with an average of 135 yards, while the 49ers however, allowed the second-fewest yards per game during that span with nearly 78 yards surrendered on average.
The Cowboys have seen this movie before and how it plays out - and they don't intend on seeing it again. Last season against the very same 49ers in the Wild Card round that ended in a heartbreaking 23-17 loss, Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott combined for just 16 carries for 45 yards and no touchdowns.
That experience from last January has paid dividends this week as they prepare to face maybe an even better version of the 49ers' defense compared to what they were presented with previously.
"It benefits us a lot," Pollard said. "For the most part the whole group came back so a lot of the guys that were on the team when we played last year are still there. So, getting the tendencies for how guys play and getting to the film."
Pollard by himself took just four carries for 14 yards with his longest run totaling out to eight yards. For his sake (and perhaps more importantly, the Cowboys') Pollard will likely get a few more touches than that when Sunday rolls around than he did a season ago.
"I would say just being more incorporated into the offense, into the scheme of things, knowing I have a bigger part of the game plan… I definitely feel like I have a bigger part in this one," Pollard said.
The first-time Pro Bowler will undoubtedly have a bigger role this time around after wrapping up the first 1,000-yard season of his career to go with nine rushing touchdowns. Elliott of course will still factor in as well with his 12 touchdowns, the most he's had in a season since 2019.
But they'll be doing it against a San Francisco defense that has not allowed an individual player to rush for at least 70 yards in 26 consecutive games. Led by Nick Bosa, who is in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the year, along with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, the 49ers' ability to push teams around has been well-documented.
"Very talented front," Elliott said. "It starts with those guys, it starts with those edge rushers, you've got a good interior guy, a great linebacker corps. Their front is definitely tough, and they present some challenges, but I think sometimes even when the run doesn't work as well you still get them to commit that extra guy to the box and it opens up play action. So, you commit to running the football, it's going to open up other stuff."
While running the ball will be the point of emphasis as it always is for head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Pollard also acknowledged that finding ways to open up running lanes against the 49ers front seven.
"Just being balanced in our attack," Pollard said. "Mixing it up, runs, passes, play action, things like that. Taking shots here and there just taking what the defense gives us… I feel like we've done a good job this year of switching it up. We have gameplans where we like to run straight at the defense. Sometimes we like to switch it up, run around them and get a couple tosses in the game plan, so just keeping them guessing."
The 49ers' physicality on defense is no secret either. The Cowboys just saw a team with a similar defensive makeup in the Buccaneers and rose to the occasion in dominant fashion. Suffice to say, they feel like they're up to the challenge against San Francisco this time around.
"I think the more blows you get, the more tired those guys will get," Elliott said. "It's tough for us, but easier for them earlier in the game when they're fresh. But as they get tired, you start to see those runs gain more and more yards."
Last season's playoff run has not been lost on the Cowboys, serving as the fuel that helped carry them through a season full of ups and downs and ignite their motto in 'resilient.' But for Pollard and Elliott, a shot at going toe-to-toe with the 49ers' defense is something they're ready for.
"It hurt," Elliott said. "It ended a lot earlier than we wanted. "You just have to remember that pain. Like Dak [Prescott] always says 'Leave nothing up to chance.' Do everything we can to prepare for this game and be ready to put our best foot forward this weekend."