SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports activities’ Lorenzo Reyes provides us one key for each wild card winner in the event that they wish to advance even additional within the playoffs.

FRISCO, Texas — Cowboys working again Ezekiel Elliott sees him.

“Large 9-9 within the center,” he mentioned of Aaron Donald (and referencing his jersey quantity) when requested Tuesday. “Could possibly be one of the vital disruptive defensive gamers on this league. He’s a man you’ve received to recreation plan round, man who has numerous manufacturing. He’s a particular participant.”

Shutting down the Rams’ all-pro defensive sort out might be key because the Cowboys chase an upset Saturday night time in the NFC divisional round.

Donald led the league with 20½ sacks this season, 4½ greater than the runner-up, the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt. Donald registered three consecutive multi-sack video games whereas anchoring a unit that gained plus-11 within the turnover battle. Since coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips joined Donald in 2017, the Rams are 18-Zero in video games when Donald has a sack.

Take into account a Cowboys crew that allowed 56 sacks within the common season (second worst) warned.

“He’s a mix actually of all the pieces that’s good in a defensive sort out,” mentioned all-pro proper guard Zack Martin, who has performed towards Donald since faculty. (Martin went to Notre Dame and Donald attended Pitt).

“Lots of instances once you play a defensive sort out, they’re actually sturdy however will not be as fast. He’s just about all the pieces.”

Donald will face a quarterback in Prescott who has gained 16 of 19 video games (postseason included) when taking zero or one sacks. The Cowboys are nearer to .500 at 17-14 when Prescott is sacked not less than twice.

A kind of defeats got here in 2017 to the Rams, a two-sack recreation Dallas misplaced 35-30. Donald had two quarterback hits in 59 snaps however no sacks as Prescott spun out of a neck maintain on Third-and-7 to finish an 18-yard go to Dez Bryant.

“It’s selecting and selecting our spots … the place we are able to apply stress and activate issues that put stress,” McVay mentioned of the go rush in a convention name with Dallas reporters. “Dak’s a troublesome man to deliver down.”

However Donald, fellow sort out Ndamukong Suh, outdoors linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and defensive finish Michael Brockers are amongst those that will attempt. Professional Soccer Focus ranked the unit third finest amongst defensive entrance sevens this season (after the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars). A Cowboys offensive line that struggled with consistency dropped from fourth to 14th in a yr.

The Cowboys’ finest wager?

Capitalize on a leaky run D.

The Rams’ 122.three speeding yards per recreation this season ranked 23rd within the league. Their 5.1 yards per carry allowed ranked useless final.

“Groups which were profitable have completed the little issues proper, executed, hit some massive runs towards them,” Martin mentioned. “On the identical time, you’ll be able to’t have a look at that stat and assume it’s going to be simple sledding working the ball.”

Elliott, the league’s speeding champion with 1,434 yards, averaged four.7 yards per carry. He rushed for 95.6 per recreation, averaging 125 whole yards from scrimmage whereas additionally lead blocking on key performs like red-zone quarterback attracts for Prescott. These run-pass choices will issue into the Cowboys’ recreation plan.

However Dallas can’t depend on the Rams to run to victory, Elliott mentioned.

“The common season is over,” Elliott mentioned. “That is playoff soccer. I believe all that stuff will get thrown out the window as soon as we get on the market.

“Everybody goes to be taking part in onerous. Everybody goes to be taking part in to win.”


Observe USA TODAY Sports activities’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein


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