The Dallas Cowboys saw their season come to a close after uncharacteristically losing battles in the trenches to the Los Angeles Rams on both sides of the ball.
Dallas' front seven surrendered 273 rushing yards to Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson and failed to sack Jared Goff even once in its 30-22 Divisional Round defeat. But the Cowboys' league-leading rushing attack also had a miserable evening.
Ezekiel Elliott, the game's most prolific rusher over the last three seasons, was held to just 47 yards on 20 carries. His 2.3 yards per carry clip was his worst since the bye. Dallas ran for a season-low 50 yards as a team just one week after rolling the Seattle Seahawks for 164 yards in the Wild Card Round.
"They were committed to stopping our run. They had a lot of people around the line of scrimmage. That's what they were going to do," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Los Angeles' game plan. "When we were in three-wide receiver sets, they were staying in base defense. They just wanted to stop the run. That gave us some opportunities in the passing game that we were to able to take advantage of. Obviously we're at our best when we're balanced, when we're throwing it and running it. But they were committed to stopping the run and we had to run them out of it, and at times we did a good job of that."
"That defense, when they play that way," Elliott said. "You saw big 93 (Ndamukong Suh) out there, was a problem all day. They did a great job just winning the battle up front, stopping the run."
The game turned on one run stuff in particular. Down eight points on L.A.'s 35-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter and faced with a fourth-and-1, the Cowboys opted to go for it. The play call saw Elliott take a handoff up the middle into a nine-man box. The back was initially stopped by Suh behind the line of scrimmage before Elliott was taken down on a second effort by collapsing safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson.
The failed fourth-down attempt was followed by what would be a game-sealing, 12-play touchdown drive from the Rams and scrutiny from reporters after the game.
Garrett defended the call.
"It's been a signature play for us," Garrett told reporters. "We've been very successful over the years with that idea, double-teaming at the point of attack and giving Zeke a chance to make the yard. He's done that time and time again throughout his career and they did a good job stopping us on that one."
"They dominated us up front," Elliott said succinctly of the play. "We didn't get any movement."
It's an unfortunate end to the season for Elliott, who led the league in rushing with 1,434 yards and was primarily responsible for carrying the Cowboys through the home stretch, toward an NFC East title and back into the Divisional Round.
"I mean, we played against a really good front," Elliott concluded. "You guys kept asking me about stats and 5.1 yard a carry all week. And I told y'all this is playoff football. None of that s--- matters anymore. They came out and played better than us."