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Chiefs vs. Cowboys preview: The Ezekiel Elliott effect

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During the first four days of this week, we lived in a world in which Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was going to be held out of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, finally suspended by the league for domestic violence.

Alfred Morris was starting in his place, and despite heading into “Jerry World,” the Chiefs were favored.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid downplayed the advantage.

“I think they’re deep at that spot,” Reid said. “If there’s one spot that they’ve got a little depth at I’ll tell you that’s it. I don’t think they change anything schematically, they do what they do. They’ll let those guys get in if that’s the case and I don’t even know what the case is, but we’ll be ready for all of it. Whatever way it goes.”

The way it went was less than ideal for the Chiefs when news broke that Elliott was granted a “stay” and will go. Morris reverted to his backup role, and Las Vegas decided now the Chiefs are more likely to lose than win.

Making matters worse for the Chiefs, they are catching Elliott at the worst possible time—he has put up three straight games of 100 rushing yards or more, and the Chiefs have been among the worst rush defenses in their last three.

No team in the league has given up more plays of 10 rushing yards or more than the Kansas City Chiefs throughout Weeks 6 to 8.

“Our run defense hasn’t been nearly as good as we need it to be,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said this week. “If we want to keep going here, we have to get that run defense moving and cranking and going. Like we always say, run defense is no different than pass defense. It involves everybody. Whether you’re the last safety back there, you have to be involved when the time comes and you have to go through all your progressions in that, and up front you have to do the same thing.”

In this week’s film review from MNchiefsfan, Seth Keysor points to three issues with the Chiefs rush defense: inside linebacker play, an invitation of the run and defensive line.

Keysor points to the D-line not winning one-on-one battles quite as often as the team needs it to, and the major problem with that trend this week is that the Cowboys O-line features three All-Pros (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick) and is considered one of the best in the league.

“This is a really good line,” Sutton said. “This is a line that has been put together over the last four or five years and they produced at a very good, consistent level … A lot of different backs, so that probably speaks well to the offensive line, well coached and they’re well coordinated. There’s a strong commitment to run the ball there.”

In 2017, only the Jacksonville Jaguars have rushed for more yards per game than the Cowboys, and their best rushing stretch meets the Chiefs worst rushing defense stretch Sunday.

I didn’t like this matchup for the Chiefs with Alfred Morris, who quietly has more than 100 rushing yards on only 13 carries this season.

But with Elliott playing his best football with the Chiefs playing their worst?

You may not want to watch.

Five keys to Chiefs vs. Cowboys

1) Uh, stop Elliott.

2) The Chiefs full offensive line will be back. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif got out of the week without an injury designation, meaning for the first time since Week 2, the Chiefs will have their full starting offensive line back out on the field. As you can tell, I worry for the Chiefs when it comes to yards and points allowed this week. I think this offensive line could help the Chiefs to get back to that initial offensive swagger, something they’ll need to win in what I predict to be a shootout Sunday.

3) Don’t let DL Demarcus Lawrence ruin the football game. Another week, another colossal challenge for right tackle Mitch Schwartz. Schwartz will have breakout star Demarcus Lawrence in his grill all game. Lawrence leads the league in sacks this season with 10.5

4) CB Kenneth Acker vs. WR Dez Bryant. While obviously the rush defense is a concern for the Chiefs, this matchup (even as you look at it in writing) probably is perhaps equally unnerving in its own right. The last elite receiver the Chiefs faced was Amari Cooper, and he had 210 yards. I believe Dez Bryant is better than Cooper.

5) LBs Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and presumably Frank Zombo keys on defense. With the aforementioned potentially disastrous matchup, the sooner Justin Houston and Tamba Hali can get to Dak Prescott, the better. He’ll be up against third-year right tackle La’El Collins. Dee Ford won’t play and I don’t expect Hali to be in for every snap, so Frank Zombo will see some action. A part of me is grateful for that, as Zombo’s strength is run defense.