DENVER — Ezekiel Elliott can easily recall the last time he was held to less than 10 yards rushing in a game.
“Never,” the Dallas Cowboys running back said.
Elliott couldn’t find any daylight against a swarming Denver Broncos defense as the Cowboys fell 42-17 on Sunday in a game that was delayed 62 minutes by lightning.
His final numbers weren’t pretty: Nine carries, 8 yards. It was by far the worst game of Elliott’s pro career, with his longest scamper just a 5-yard mini-burst. He entered averaging around 5 yards per attempt since joining the Cowboys (1-1) last season.
“We just were getting dominated up front,” Elliott explained. “We couldn’t get any movement off the ball. We couldn’t establish the run game.
“We definitely didn’t play up to our abilities. We have to go back, watch the film and rebuild, make sure we’re getting better.”
Elliott continues to play while his appeal of a six-game suspension for domestic violence works its way through the legal system. Asked if that weighed on him, Elliott didn’t take long in his response.
“No,” he said.
Instead, Elliott cited the lack of running lanes for his frustrating afternoon. That, and Denver (2-0) stacking the line of scrimmage to bottle up Elliott, who rushed for 104 yards in the season opener against the New York Giants.
“Once you cut off a priority like that, you make them change the game plan,” said Broncos pass rush specialist Von Miller, who had two sacks.
That’s precisely what Dallas did with QB Dak Prescott throwing it a career-high 50 times. Prescott had 238 yards passing with two TDs and two interceptions, including one in which Aqib Talib returned for a 103-yard score.
“They were loading up the box and playing man-to-man outside,” Prescott said. “You really have to have some success throwing the ball to get them out of that defense and we were not able to do that on a consistent basis.”
Before Sunday, Elliott’s worst NFL rushing game was on Sept. 11, 2016, in his rookie debut when he was held to 51 yards by the Giants. In that contest, though, he scored a TD.
This time, his biggest contribution was a 9-yard reception with around 6 minutes left in the blowout.
“We definitely won’t be discouraged,” Elliott said. “We can get so much better. If you’re peaking right now, you’re going to have a problem. You really don’t want to be peaking right now. You want to peak at the end of the season and get rolling. We just can’t come out and play like this.”
Dallas owner Jerry Jones was surprised to see his team’s run game so thoroughly stuffed. The Cowboys finished with 40 yards rushing — Prescott led the way with 24 — while the Broncos accumulated 178.
“We would’ve thought, with them doing a good job fundamentally, a good job, we would’ve thought the strength of our offensive line and what we had in the running game could make up for that,” Jones said. “Boy, they were sound on their defense. I’m not even going to attempt to get into it technically, but they were where they were supposed to be.”
What lies ahead for Elliott and the Cowboys is this: More legal maneuvering. The NFL recently asked a federal appeals court to move quickly on its request to overrule a judge’s injunction that blocked the suspension for Elliott.
The league filed an emergency motion with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans last week, even though a federal judge in Texas hasn’t ruled on a request to put the injunction on hold while an appeal is pursued.
Jones believes Elliott will be available a week from Monday at Arizona. As for the rest of the season, “I don’t know about that,” Jones said.