Whether if the Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott or not, the they present a major challenge to the Falcons’ defense, which has struggled to stop the run while losing four of their past five games.
The Falcons (4-4) need a victory over the Cowboys (5-3) in order to stop their slump and gain the head-to-head playoff advantage. The Falcons are chasing the Saints (6-2) and Panthers (6-3) in the NFC South, while the Cowboys are chasing the Eagles (8-1) in the NFC East.
The Cowboys will find out about Elliott’s availability this week after a legal hearing on Thursday. He’s rushed 191 times for 783 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
The Cowboys have contingency plans for Elliott.
“We anticipate him being here …and practicing through the week until there is some decision made,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said to the Dallas media on Monday. “But again, we’re going to focus on what we can control in that situation.”
The Cowboys run their offense through Elliott, while trying to set up the passing game that features wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
“If you look, that’s really the strength or one of the strengths of their team is their ability to (run),” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
The Falcons have struggled to stop the run. They gave up a season-high 201 yards in a 20-17 loss to the Panthers. They also gave up 162 yards to New England, 138 yards to Miami and 117 yards to Buffalo.
Dallas’ second-leading rusher is quarterback Dak Prescott, who’s rushed 26 times for 195 yards and four touchdowns. A week after Carolina quarterback Cam Newton broke loose on the Falcons, they can expect to see some Prescott designed runs, too.
“We really have to make sure our gap control is correct and right,” Quinn said. “For us losing some contained plays (against the Panthers with) quarterback draws, outside runs, they featured Cam (Newton) in a way that suited his style, and when we didn’t answer on those, that was difficult for us.”
After a 2-3 start, the Cowboys have won three-straight. After being cleared to play late last week, Elliott had 27 carries for 93 yards and one touchdown in a win over Kansas City.
Alfred Morris, who started his career with three-straight 1,000 yard seasons with Washington from 2012-14, has been Elliott’s main backup this season.
“I do know they’ve got good backs, including (Elliott), so I would imagine the scheme would be very similar with him in or without him,” Quinn said. “As far as him playing, I’ll anticipate he’s playing until I’ve been told otherwise. I’ll go down that road until I hear otherwise, but I would anticipate the scheme being similar.”
Elliot was named the offensive rookie of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America after rushing for 1,631 yards and scoring 15 rushing touchdowns last season. His total was second-best rushing performance by a rookie, behind Eric Dickerson’s 1,808 yards in 1983.
“I think the biggest thing that jumped out to me was the speed, and that’s one of the positions where it can make a real factor for a guy who’s matched up on linebackers or safeties,” Quinn said. “Much like our guys where you get a running back up to the next level. In the pass game as well, it’s a factor.”
Elliot has caught 19 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas defense is led by defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is having a strong season. He is second in the league in sacks with 10.5.
“He was very physical against the run and he was active rushing the passer,” Garrett said about the Chiefs game. “Anytime you can make that quarterback uncomfortable, that benefits everybody. He was getting off the ball, he was getting off blocks, he was around him, he was harassing him, and he had a big impact in the game.”
The Cowboys have some key injuries to monitor this week. Left tackle Tyron Smith suffered a groin injury against Kansas City.
Bryant suffered an ankle and knee injury.
“He’ll deal with both of those on a day-by-day basis,” said Garrett, who added that he didn’t think Bryant’s injury was significant.
Wide receiver Terrance Williams also suffered an ankle injury.