DALLAS — One hallmark of facing Bill Belichick is that the New England Patriots coach will identify what a team does best and emphasize taking it away.
What has worked for the Dallas Cowboys throughout their four-game winning streak has been their rushing attack, and running back Ezekiel Elliott believes that the run is one aspect that the Patriots defense will work to eliminate.
"We are ready," said Elliott. "We are going to do whatever we need to do. They haven't seen us yet. I anticipate them loading the box up and focusing on the run more."
Elliott has produced a 5.57 yards per carry on first down this season, the second-best among running backs with at least 30 first down carries. Tony Pollard leads the way with 7.13 yards per carry on first down. If offensive coordinator Kellen Moore knows this, then so does Belichick.
Regardless of the football intelligence clashing from sideline to sideline Sunday, Elliott knows that the game will come down to execution, and that the Cowboys, as impressive as their 34.0 points per game has been, have carried vulnerabilities a great team like New England could exploit.
"I think previously in the past couple weeks we’ve had some mistakes, but against this team, we’re not going to be able to make those mistakes," said Elliott. "They’re very fundamentally sound. They give you a couple different looks. They got a lot of linebackers that can also play D-line so they move their guys around a little bit. So, you just got to make sure you’re in your playbook and in your film a little extra this week."
The last time the Cowboys faced New England was on Nov. 24, 2019, at Gillette Stadium. Although it was a cold, rainy game that forced Elliott to change his gloves multiple times, the Patriots' defense had more to do with limiting the two-time NFL rushing champion to 86 yards on 21 carries.
Said Elliott: "They are one of the hardest defenses that I played against in regards to what they run and how they disguise coverages. It's not simple at all. It is going to be one of the most complex defensive schemes we are going to play this year. So, the biggest thing for us to make sure is to stay in the film and make sure we are putting in the extra time."
The success of the run game is built upon the cohesion of the offensive line. Through five games, the Cowboys are averaging 172.8 rushing yards per game, the second-best in the NFL.
"The O-line, they're mauling guys up front; you got the receivers mauling DBs, too," Elliott said. "Everyone is all in. Everyone is doing their part and we're reaping the benefits."
The Cowboys will have to do their part for 60:00 as it could be tough sledding for the run game in New England.
Do you think the Patriots will be able to stop Elliott and the Cowboys’ ground game? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.