Saturday evening’s matchup between the Rams and Cowboys will feature two of the best running backs in the league. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott was the NFL rushing champion and the Rams’ Todd Gurley finished third. Surely both players will make an impact, but who will pick up more yards on the ground? Let’s examine the case for both players and determine the right side of this Divisional prop.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Todd Gurley: Which running back will rush for more yards?
Elliott averaged 95.6 rushing yards in 15 regular season games this season. He added 137 yards in the Cowboys’ Wild Card win over the Seahawks. Though Elliott only has two career playoff appearances, he’s averaging 131 rushing yards per postseason game.
This will be Elliott’s second career game against the Rams. The first came in Week 4 of 2017 in Dallas, a game the Rams won 35-30. Elliott had 85 rushing yards.
There are a couple of unknowns here. One, this will be Elliott’s first career road playoff game. It’s unclear how that might affect him. Two, he hasn’t faced the Rams with both Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Related: NFL Betting Guide
But despite the Rams’ big-name players, the numbers point to them being a below average run defense. They allowed 122.3 rushing yards per game, which ranked 23rd in the league. They also gave up 5.1 yards per carry, which was more than any other team. The Seahawks, the team Elliott gashed last week, were tied for the third-most yards allowed per carry with 4.9.
Gurley played in 14 regular season games and averaged 89.3 rushing yards per game. He has one career postseason appearance, which was last season’s home Wild Card loss to the Falcons. He had 101 rushing yards. The aforementioned Week 4, 2017 Rams-Cowboys game was also Gurley’s lone meeting with Dallas. He bested Elliott, picking up 121 yards on the ground.
The scary thing regarding Gurley is his health. He missed the Rams’ final two regular season games with a knee injury and obviously wasn’t playing during the Rams’ bye. That means we haven’t seen him since December 17, when he limped around in the Rams’ home loss to the Eagles on Sunday night. For all we know, he could still be hobbled.
There’s also the fact that C.J. Anderson demolished the Cardinals and 49ers in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. Yes, the Cardinals and 49ers were two of the worst teams in the league with nothing to play for but draft position, but we can’t ignore the fact that he averaged 149.5 yards per game in Gurley’s absence. Perhaps Anderson has earned some extra work while Gurley continues to heal.
Though they don’t have the big names, the Cowboys have been much more successful at stopping the run. They have the NFL’s fifth-best rushing defense, allowing 94.6 yards per game. They allow 3.8 yards per carry, which is fewer than all but three teams (Houston, New Orleans, Baltimore).
They also completely shut down the Seahawks, who entered the game with the league’s top rushing offense (160 yards per game). Seattle’s running backs combined for 59 yards on 21 carries (2.8 yards per carry). If you remove Seattle’s lone long run of the game, a 28-yarder by Rashaad Penny, the totals fall to 31 yards on 20 carries (1.5 yards per carry).
The pick: Elliott. He’s not sharing carries with anyone and he’s not injured. The Rams can be beaten on the ground, which Dallas will likely try to exploit. We have no idea how many carries to expect from Gurley or if he’ll be in a split with Anderson. The Rams are also more likely to come out with a pass-heavy attack. Gurley would still be a formidable weapon in that case, but he wouldn’t get the type of yards he needs to win this prop. Factor in Gurley’s difficult matchup and Elliott is the clear choice.
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