TEMPE, Ariz. — When the Arizona Cardinals watched the tape of the Denver Broncos’ win over the Dallas Cowboys from last Sunday, they saw a blueprint of how to slow running back Ezekiel Elliott nearly to a grinding halt.
They also saw how the second-year star reacts when that happens.
But the Cardinals are preparing for an Elliott they believe will be playing with a chip on his shoulder in front of a national TV audience Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“He’ll be ready to roll,” safety Tyrann Mathieus aid. “We just got to bring our big-boy pads. Everybody has to tackle.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said two main reasons the Broncos had success against the Cowboys stood out in the film study: Denver got and held on to the lead, forcing the Cowboys to pass and essentially rendering Elliott useless; and Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
“If I could have Von Miller, I’d be happy,” Arians said. “He’s special. We’ve got a pretty good one, too, [in outside linebacker Chandler Jones], so, yeah. It’s a copycat league, but you can’t change what you do.
“They have some unique stuff that they run that you have to be very aware for. Hopefully, our matchups are pretty solid.”
For a little while during the past week it wasn’t certain if Elliott would play Monday night. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Friday to not hear arguments on the stay that’s keeping Elliott on the field for at least the next two weeks until Oct. 2. Even if the courts hadn’t made that announcement Friday, Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher wasn’t planning on paying much attention to the legal proceedings.
All week, as the status of Elliott for Monday night’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium faced some uncertainty, the Cardinals’ message was the same: It didn’t matter if Elliott played or not because the Cowboys wouldn’t change how they run the ball if Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris or Rod Smith was starting instead of Elliott.
Whether that was just coachspeak is up for debate, but it didn’t matter as of Friday afternoon.
Elliott will be on the field.
That means the Cardinals will be preparing for last year’s rushing champ, who, despite showing a lack of effort during last week’s loss to the Broncos, is still one of the best running backs in the NFL.
“He’s tough to stop anyways, but if and what he’s motivated by, I have no idea,” Arians said. “But he’s a handful.”
When the potential chip on his shoulder is taken out of the equation, the Cardinals see Elliott for what he is: A quick, powerful runner.
“I think he is a pads-down runner,” Bettcher said. “Whatever’s been said about the performance last week I watched on tape, I see a guy that carries the ball 20 times a game and averaged over 100 yards rushing a game [last season] and has a lot of talent who can burst on the second level, who can make guys on the second level miss.
“You got to wrap, you got to run and we got to rally when we tackle the guy.”
Elliott has rushed for 112 yards on 33 carries this year but has been held without a touchdown.
He set career lows in 10 different rushing categories last weekend, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
When defensive tackle Frostee Rucker watched Elliott on tape, he saw similarities to one of his teammates, running back Kerwynn Williams.
“They’re hard runners, but they’re small and you can’t really see them,” Rucker said. “When you got a big O-line like [Elliott] does, he’s really explosive, and he has all the traits to be a great back for many years to come.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about the kid. I don’t really know him. I know from what you see on film, he has a lot of speed, he does turn the corner and hit the edge on you, he does run it between the tackles, which a lot of guys try to bounce it out, but he’s trying to keep it in there, and it fits what they do well.”