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Elliott, Cowboys provide litmus test for Broncos' D-line fix 

By: ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
September 13, 2017 Updated: September 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm
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photo - Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) escapes a tackle attempt by New York Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson (93) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) escapes a tackle attempt by New York Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson (93) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) 

ENGLEWOOD — After allowing Melvin Gordon to scamper for 21 yards on his first carry, the Denver Broncos held the Chargers running back to just 33 yards on his final 17 hand-offs.

Next up, Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott.

In Elliott, whose six-game suspension in a domestic violence case is on hold, the Broncos get a litmus test for their offseason makeover of their defensive line featuring the additions of nose tackles Domata Peko and Zach Kerr.

"Great running backs like that can take a little bit of daylight and go all the way with it," Von Miller said. "And it's hard to keep it dark on the defensive line because they have a great offensive line. So, any bit of daylight he can take it the distance."

Just like Gordon, who was taken down by safety Justin Simmons with a touchdown-saving open-field tackle Monday night in Denver's 24-21 win over the Chargers.

By double- and triple-teaming Miller, the Chargers extended his career-long sackless streak to five games. But they did so at the expense of limiting their route options and Philip Rivers had just 60 yards passing through three quarters.

The Cowboys (1-0) feature the best offensive line in football, but the Broncos expect them to also key on Miller so he doesn't get to Dak Prescott on Sunday.

"To block Von Miller 1-on-1 on third down or on passing downs wouldn't be smart for anyone," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph.

Not even with an O-line that features three All-Pros in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin blocking for Elliot, a fellow first-team All-Pro.

"He's just an amazing back," said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. "From pass protection to catching the ball out of the backfield to picking the right spots and breaking tackles and having the long-end speed, he's a really, really good back and our defense has got a tough matchup this week."

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell last month over a domestic violence case in Ohio, but that penalty is on hold as it works its way through the courts.

Cleared to play, Elliott rushed for 104 yards in the Cowboys' 19-3 season-opening win over the New York Giants on Sunday night despite the Giants' focus on stopping the run.

"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."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Elliott's legal issues aren't adversely affecting the team.

"I think the biggest thing we try to instill in our players and really try to live as coaches is just the importance of focusing," Garrett said. "Focus on us, focus on today and focus on the task at hand, the things that are most important, which is our work, our preparation and getting better and obviously the things we can control.

"So, that's a big emphasis for all of us, again players and coaches alike. And we try to instill that in our team and certainly in situations like this it's doubly important."

Should Elliott ultimately have to serve his suspension this season, Garrett's goal is to make sure the Cowboys aren't a one-man show that will stagger without him.

"He's obviously a really good player and he's been very productive for us in the short time that he's been with us. But you like to think you can build a team where you're not solely reliant on any one guy," Garrett said.

Notes: The Broncos matched $87,500 in player donations to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. ... RB Devontae Booker (hand) practiced for the first time since OTAs. Out were RG Ron Leary (concussion), FS Darian Stewart (groin) and CB Brendan Langley (knee). LT Garett Bolles (shoulder) was limited. Joseph said Booker most likely won't play this weekend but he was pleased to see him back on the field for what was really a jog-through following the Monday night game. "He did most of our scout team reps and a small sum of our first- and second-team offensive reps," Joseph said.

___

AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed.

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