Broncos prepare to tackle Cowboys’ offense
DENVER — The Dallas Cowboys’ offense thrives on the simplicity of physical play and that’s what makes them so tough to stop.
“It’s not a complicated offense to prepare for or defend, but they’re so good at what they do, so it will be challenging,” said Denver coach Vance Joseph, whose Broncos (1-0) host the Dallas Cowboys (1-0) on Sunday.
It starts with an offensive line that Joseph called the best in the league and includes three All-Pro players in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Ezekiel Elliott zoomed to stardom running behind them as a rookie last season, running for a league-leading 1,631 yards, and he picked up where he left off in Dallas’ opening 19-3 win over the New York Giants in which he ran for 104 yards.
“That’s what we expect every week,” Elliott said. “We’re going to run the football. We’re going to show you different looks, but it’s going to be the same four plays. It’s going to be you versus us. You’ve got to stop us. You’ve got to be better than us.”
The offensive line also has provided the protection that spurred the development of second-year quarterback Dak Prescott into a steady, reliable offensive leader who has guided the Cowboys to wins in 14 of their last 16 regular-season games.
“Obviously, they had a lot of talent coming out,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said during a conference call with Denver area reporters. “But more than anything else, I just think it’s their approach. They have a lot of confidence in themselves. They understand our run concepts, our zone scheme that we’re trying to do. They have an unbelievable competitor’s mindset. They just fight.”
Getting through that line of defense to disrupt Prescott and Elliott poses a major test for a Broncos defense that played well for the most part in Denver’s opening 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers that was preserved by a blocked field goal attempt in the final seconds of regulation.
The Broncos limited Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who had had more than 200 yards rushing in two games against the Broncos last season, to 54 yards rushing last week even though their defensive line was depleted by injury.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t get going against the Denver defense until two fourth-quarter turnovers by the Broncos’ offense opened the door to quick strikes little more than a minute apart.
Yet Broncos pass rushing linebacker Von Miller said the power of the Cowboys’ offensive line makes it that much tougher to deal with Prescott and Elliott as well as Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
“He’s poised back there and he just doesn’t look like a second-year player,” Miller said of Prescott. “Last year, he didn’t look like a rookie. He has one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines blocking for him and one of the best, if not the best, running back behind him.
“If I was a quarterback, I’d be walking around like Dak Prescott too.”
Both teams are dealing with injuries heading into Sunday’s matchup.
Denver running back Devontae Booker (wrist fracture) resumed practicing in a limited fashion but likely won’t be available this week.
Also, guard Ron Leary remains in concussion protocol and is questionable to play against his former team. Defensive linemen Jared Crick (back) and Zach Kerr (knee) both practiced in limited fashion after missing Denver’s opener.
In addition, safety Darian Stewart missed some practice time with a groin injury suffered in the opener and rookie left tackle Garett Bolles was limited in practice with a shoulder injury.
For the Cowboys, wide receiver Terrance Williams, who had six catches for 68 yards in the opener, is dealing with an ankle sprain and his availability remains questionable.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who broke his left hand helping make a tackle in the first game, also remains questionable.
Elliott is expected to play Sunday as the NFL battles courts over his appeal of a six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy. Elliott was suspended after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend, in Columbus, Ohio. Prosecutors in the area did not file charges and Elliott alleges he was not given a fair hearing by the NFL.
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