Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott, others on Cowboys and Texans test positive for coronavirus

USA Today

Ezekiel Elliott, others on Cowboys and Texans test positive for coronavirus

As NFL teams begin gearing up for training camp next month, Monday offered a sobering reminder of what the country is still very much dealing with: 

For what it's worth, Elliot was (rightfully) displeased that the test results somehow leaked: 

It's just another reminder that we're all very much still living in the midst of a historically devastating pandemic. With state Covid numbers beginning to (in some cases, dramatically) rise over the past few weeks, it's worth wondering how important starting – or finishing – seasons are, compared to the long term health of these athletes. 

Khalil Mack says Dak Prescott will be huge challenge for Bears defense

Khalil Mack says Dak Prescott will be huge challenge for Bears defense

As the Bears prepare to welcome the Dallas Cowboys to Soldier Field for Week 14's Thursday night showdown, star edge rusher Khalil Mack knows his defense will face a tough challenge against quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

“The guy knows how to put his team in a position to win games," Mack said of Prescott on Tuesday. "He’s a hell of a ballplayer. He plays with a lot of heart, and you see it. You see it reflected in the film. It’s going to be a big challenge for us this week.”

Despite Dallas' 6-6 record, Prescott has been in the discussion as one of the top candidates for 2019 NFL MVP. He's completed nearly 67% of his passes for 3,788 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year which is nearly 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns more than Mitch Trubisky has thrown for.

Part of what makes Prescott so dangerous is the Cowboys' running game. Opposing defenses can't focus their attention solely on stopping wide receiver Amari Cooper and the rest of Dallas' weapons on the outside. If that's the strategy the Bears take, Elliott is likely to carve them up.

“He’s one of the most physical running backs in the league," Mack said of Elliott. "It’s going to be a huge task. He’s a guy who runs the ball like he’s angry. It’s going to be our job to make sure he feels us.”

Elliot's physical between-the-tackles running style has him sixth in the NFL in rushing yards (990) this season. And while he hasn't made many splash plays in 2019, he's still churning out 4.4 yards per carry.

Mack knows there's an even bigger challenge facing the Bears than just the Cowboys' offense this week. Chicago needs to win out to make the playoffs and with the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings remaining on their schedule in Weeks 15-17, it may take a small miracle for the Bears to play in January.

“We love this," Mack said of the pressure on his team. "If you play this game and you love this game, you can’t wait to do the impossible, in a sense. You can’t wait to go out and prove yourself.”

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Chuck Pagano on Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott: 'He's as good as they get'

Chuck Pagano on Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott: 'He's as good as they get'

The Bears' 2019 season still has a pulse because of their win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day coupled with losses by the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers in Week 13, two teams also jockeying for the sixth and final NFC playoff seed.

But if Chicago wants to avoid flatlining Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, they'll have to stop All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, who defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano hinted will be as challenging of a test the team has faced all year.

“He’s a great, great back," Pagano said Monday from Halas Hall. "He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got great vision. He can run. He can take it inside, bounce outside, run through you; run around you; jump over you. He’s a threat out of the backfield as a receiver. He’s good in pass [protection]. He’s as good as they get.”

Through 12 games this season, Elliott has 227 carries for 990 yards and seven touchdowns. His rushing yards rank sixth in the NFL and trails the league's leading rusher, Nick Chubb (Browns), by less than 200 yards.

Matt Nagy expanded on Chicago's scouting report for the Cowboys' bellcow.

“He has great contact balance. But the other thing they do well with him too is they are able to dump the ball out to him in the flat and he can make guys miss. He’s a hard tackle one-on-one for a DB, linebacker at times. He’s versatile.”

If the Bears are to have any chance at upsetting the Cowboys in front of a national audience on Thursday night, it starts with stopping Elliott. It's a task much easier said than done, but if there's any defense with the talent to do it, it's Chicago.

“We’re extremely excited for the matchup," linebacker Roquan Smith said, "and I think it’ll be good for us.”