The Week 6 meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys pitted the then-No. 1 ranked rushing defense versus Ezekiel Elliott. The rookie running back proved that ranking hallow, built by facing teams with piddling rushing attacks. Zeke gashed the Packers for 157 rushing yards, including 97 in the second half.
“We just won the line of scrimmage,” Elliott said Wednesday, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “That’s what it came down to. We wore them down earlier in the game, and in the second half you started to see runs break open.”
The Packers remember it slight differently, telling reporters they lacked gap discipline with players sometimes freelancing, going for big hits and whiffing.
“He does a real good job of kind of finding the holes and being patient, and that’s where he makes a lot of teams pay,” Clay Matthews said. “I’m not saying we have to do anything special, but we need to do our job. If you look at the runs he hit on us the first time, it was guys just doing too much or kind of playing outside the scheme.
“That’s what we’re focusing on this week, is being accountable and doing our job and being where we need to be.”
The Packers noted Zeke’s phenomenal vision, which they believe is his best attribute. The rookie’s improved patience and ability to see holes form are what separates him from other backs behind the Cowboys road-grading offensive line. Yes, Dallas’ O-line creates holes, but lesser backs don’t turn 4-yard gains into 15-yard gains as easily as Zeke.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards, the first rookie to do so since Edgerrin James in 1999. He compiled seven 100-yard rushing yard games this season (tied for most in the NFL) and was second in the NFL in scrimmage yards with 1,994.
Green Bay finished the season ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, giving up 94.7 yards per game. Dom Capers’ defense played six games against running backs to finish in the top 10 in rushing yards this season, giving up an average of 74.8 yards per game. The Packers allowed 90-plus yards to individual players in three of the six games — we should note in Week 7 rookie Jordan Howard only received seven carries versus Green Bay.
Packers vs. Top 10 Rushers This season:
Ezekiel Elliott: Week 6, 157 yards
Jordan Howard: Week 7, 22 yards
Devonta Freeman: Week 8, 35 yards
DeMarco Murray: Week 10, 123 yards
Lamar Miller: Week 13, 22 yards
Howard: Week 15, 90 yards
“Makes me sleep better at night,” defensive tackle Letroy Guion said, “when we go back and watch that game and see the things that we need to do better, and know that we can correct it. It’s not something that’s not correctable.”