PITTSBURGH — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot will be central to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game plan this week.
The Steelers know they won’t win many one-on-one matchups with the league’s leading rusher. They must play 11-on-one.
“It’s important you have multiple guys hitting him, the hits accumulate on him where if he makes the first guy miss, you have two or three guys coming in to finish him off as well,” linebacker Arthur Moats said.
Sounds painful, but an average of 111 yards per game might ease the soreness. Elliott, quarterback Dak Prescott and a stocked offensive line lead the league’s second-ranked rushing offense and average nearly 5 yards per carry.
The Steelers’ defense is built on stopping the run, and after giving up a ghastly 362 yards in back-to-back losses to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, Pittsburgh got back on track Sunday with less than two yards per carry allowed against the Baltimore Ravens.
The team won’t underplay Prescott’s ability to win over the middle of the field, but Elliott will be the primary target.
Coach Mike Tomlin basically delivered a dissertation on what makes Elliott impressive. Tomlin says there’s “nothing he can’t do.”
“I am not necessarily surprised by what I see,” Tomlin said. “I think that was very evident for all of those that looked at his Ohio State tape. He can run inside, outside, and he has great vision. He has great contact balance. He almost always falls forward. He has really good and natural hands. He takes pride in blitz pickup. He simply does all the things that encompasses the running back position extremely well. He does it like breathing. It’s probably second nature to him. He has probably always played that way. He is big in what they are doing. The offensive line is big. You put those two components together and that’s why they have the No. 1 rushing attack in football.”
Sunday’s matchup features two of the game’s best running backs in Elliott and Le’Veon Bell, who’s averaging 130-plus yards from scrimmage per game but is still searching for his first touchdown.
Expect the Steelers to pack rushing lanes to stop Elliott, even if it means giving up a reasonable amount of passing yards.
With defensive end Cam Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier finally healthy, the Steelers will present their best chance to at least contain Elliott.