Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley are the NFL’s two best running backs no matter what metric you choose to examine.
No one has more rushing yards or yards from scrimmage since 2015 than Gurley, when the Los Angeles Rams made him the 10th player taken in the draft.
And no player has more rushing yards or yards from scrimmage than Elliott since 2016, when the Cowboys took him with the fourth pick overall.
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Each team’s offense revolves around its star runner, as it should, which is why the player who performs best Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the LA Memorial Coliseum will lead his team to the NFC championship game the Philadelphia-New Orleans winner.
Last season, Los Angeles beat Dallas 35-30 at AT&T Stadium. In that game, Gurley outplayed Elliott, which is not to say he had a poor game.
Gurley, however, was outstanding. He rushed for 127 yards and caught seven passes for 94 yards, including a 53-yard catch and run that gave the Rams their first lead, 26-24, in the third quarter.
Elliott finished with 85 yards and a touchdown, while also catching four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
It was good, but not good enough.
Heading into this game, Elliott is playing his best football. He had 137 yards rushing and 169 yards total offense in the Cowboys’ 24-22 win over Seattle last week in an NFC Wild Card game.
He led the NFL in carries (304) and yards (1,434) to capture his second NFL rushing title by 127 yards over the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley. In Elliott’s last seven games, he did not gain fewer than 75 yards.
Four times, he gained more than 100 yards.
Gurley, who earned first-team All-Pro honors, finished third in the NFL with 1,251 yards but missed the last two games with a balky knee. He’s practicing this week, but who knows how much the time off has affected his timing of rhythm.
In the last two games he played, Gurley gained 28 yards on 11 carries against Chicago and 48 yards on 12 carries against Philadelphia. The Rams lost each game.
Elliott, though, isn’t interested in turning this game into a battle of running backs. The game, he said, is bigger than that.
“We both have the same mindset,” Elliott told reporters this week. “It’s the playoffs. It’s about the team, it’s not about individuals. It’s about trying to get that Super Bowl.
“It’ll be great facing him, but I’m not going to put an emphasis on that.”
Gurley has a little different approach.
“Basically, everybody I know hates the Cowboys,’’Gurley told reporters said Wednesday. “They been just hitting me up all week. I got to try to take care of business for those guys.
“Everyone in the world knows that’s 'America’s Team' and it’s a prime-time playoff game.”
The emphasis is on winning for Elliott because a win puts the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game for the first time in 23 years. The win over Seattle was just the Cowboys’ third playoff win in the last 21 years.
There’s so much more for this core of players to accomplish, but it starts with Elliott.
Dallas is 16-3, when he gains 100 yards and 22-6 and when he gets 20 carries in a game. He’s averaged 101.2 yards in his career, and he’s averaged 131.0 yards in two playoff games.
The Rams are equally reliant on Gurley.
The Rams are 16-1 when he gains 100 yards, and 15-5 when he gets 20 carries in a game. He’s also a touchdown machine.
He’s scored a touchdown in 30 of 56 games, including 13 games with at least two touchdowns. He led the NFL with 21 touchdowns this season.
“He’s big, fast and strong,” Elliott said. “He can run over you, run through you or jump over you. He can run inside or outside and he can make you miss. He’s a great asset in the backfield.”
Kind of like you?
“You could say that,” Elliott said with a smile.