Washington built its defense to stop Ezekiel Elliott.
It’s why they drafted Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen with the 17th pick in 2017. And why they snatched Da’Ron Payne, another Alabama defensive lineman, with the 13 pick in 2018.
It worked to perfection when they played in October.
Allen had two tackles, a tackle for loss and sack in Washington 20-17 win last month, while Da’Ron Payne had four tackles. Elliott finished with 33 yards - the second-lowest total of his career - on 15 carries. He had a long run of six yards.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Washington has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season and has given up just one run of 20 yards or more in 252 attempts this season.
If they use Allen and Payne to control the line of scrimmage and shut down Elliott again, then it bodes well for their opportunity to win.
That said, this is a much different offense than the unit Washington faced just 31 days ago.
That team didn’t have Amari Cooper as its best receiver. And that team didn’t have Marc Colombo and Hudson Houck running the offensive line because line coach Paul Alexander hadn’t been fired yet.
And that team didn’t have Xavier Su’a-Filo starting at left guard instead of Connor Williams.
All of those changes have resulted in a much more productive Elliott.
In the three games since Cooper arrived and Alexander was fired, Elliott is averaging 167 yards in total offense. In the previous seven games, he was averaging 113.4 yards in total offense.
In the two games since Su’a-Filo started, he’s averaging 136.5 yards a game and 6.5 yards per carry.
Su’a-Filo is about 15 pounds heavier than Williams but his body is considerably thicker and he has the mass to handle the 320-pound defensive tackles that proliferate the NFL.
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Williams has more upside, but Su’A-Filo is playing better. Williams had arthroscopic a scope on his knee after the Tennessee game and Su’a-Filo has taken advantage of the opportunity.
“He’s stepped in there and battled and competed hard,” Garrett said of Su’a-Filo. “You can tell he’s played a lot of football in this league, and he’s worked very hard to get himself up to speed to understand what we’re doing.
“One of the things we’ve talked about that’s so important is when you have new offensive linemen playing is the communication. It’s not only just the individual guy doing his job, but guys adjusting together. Right before the ball is snapped, being able to make an adjustment to be able to go to this guy or that guy or block it that way
Colombo, as he promised, has returned the nasty to the offensive line. Instead of absorbing defensive lineman, per Alexander’s instructions, their firing off the ball.
“The mindset of the way they're going to block, that's credit to Colombo, as much as it is getting back to the stuff we've done in the past that was more Cowboys football instead of trick-ems or whatever it was," Prescott said. "The offensive line is doing a great job moving guys."
The impact on Elliott is palpable.
He had 151 yards against Philadelphia and 123 against Atlanta. And he’s been at his best in the four quarter.
Against Atlanta, he gained 39 yards on six carries, caught two passes for 13 yards and score a touchdown in a 22-19 win. In their 27-20 win over Philadelphia, he gained 43 yards on nine carried and scored two touchdowns - one rushing and one receiving.
As the Cowboys enter their most important stretch of the season, Elliott is second in the NFL in rushing with 953 yards. He’s tied with Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley with eight runs of 20 yards or more, and he’s second behind Gurley with 28 runs of 10 yards or more.
“The O-Line, they're going," Elliott said. "They're being very dominant up front, and whenever those guys do that and open up those holes, it's really easy for me. Those guys are the engine of this team. When they're going like that, we're going to be hard to beat."
More important, it allows the Cowboys to play the game the way the Cowboys envisioned, when they built the roster this way.
"As the game goes on, our ability to run the football, control the line of scrimmage and give him the rock, that's big," he said. "We built our team that way.”