Garrett Gilbert? Cooper Rush? A concussed Andy Dalton? A one-legged Dak Prescott?
It doesn’t matter to Mike Tomlin.
The arguable Coach of the Year frontrunner had no issue airing his blueprint for an opponent that hasn’t won a game since Oct. 11 and is down to its fourth QB just past the season’s midway point.
“I know Ezekiel Elliott has a lot of our attention and preparation and rightfully so. …Common sense tells you he’ll be a central figure in your game plan,” the Pittsburgh Steelers head man said Wednesday when asked about preparing for the Dallas Cowboys‘ yet-to-be-announced starting quarterback ahead of Sunday’s matchup at AT&T Stadium, via USA Today.
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Can you blame Tomlin? His team boasts the NFL’s fifth-best run defense, which allows just 96.9 yards per game. (Conversely, the Cowboys rank dead last, ceding 170.9 YPG.) Pittsburgh also ranks fifth in total yards, sixth in scoring, and seventh against the pass across its perfect 7-0 mark.
On top of everything else, there’s a legitimate chance he doesn’t get the league’s eighth-leading at full health. Elliott was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury. The issue is not considered to be serious but nonetheless may linger into the Week 9 matchup.
Massive 14-point home underdogs, the Cowboys’ fleeting hopes of scoring an upset rest squarely on Elliott’s legs. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is likely to employ a ground-and-pound approach, using play-action to maximize (read: hide) whoever’s under center — Gilbert or Rush.
Elliott, who emphasized that Dallas can beat the Steelers, is aware of his importance to this particularly circumstantial affair. The key to victory lies in, as he puts it, “not trying to do too much. Staying disciplined to my reads and landmarks. Just have a chop-wood mentality; just chip away.”
Barring further aggravation to his hamstring, Elliott is a virtual lock to notch his first 20-carry game since Week 2, and potentially a lot more, depending on the play of either Gilbert or Rush.
Whether his heavy workload translates to success is another story.
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