saints defense vs falcons
Michael C. Hebert/New Orleans Saints

Something’s going to give in the battle of the No. 1 rushing defense vs. the league’s leader in rushing yards.

The NFC South leading New Orleans Saints (10-1) hope to be on the right side when they face Ezekiel Elliott and the host Dallas Cowboys (6-5) on Thursday night.

The stingy Saints’ rushing defense has only given up over 100 yards on the ground just twice this season. Meanwhile, Elliott enters with 1,074 yards and six touchdowns.

Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins breaks down what makes Elliott so difficult to contain.

“He’ll kind of hop, skip, stutter his feet and let things develop, let his guys keep on driving their feet and moving blocks,” Rankins said to “And the next thing you know he spurts through a hole for 15, 20 yards.”

The 6-foot, 225-pound Elliott is a wrecking ball that the Saints will often need multiple defenders to take down.

“He’s powerful,” Rankins said to “The first guy never really brings him down. He’s running through arm tackles — he’s running through head-up tackles.”

Elliott is the complete package, as he’s logged 27 runs of 20 or more yards and his 4.72 career yards per carry is the third best in the league since 2016 among running backs with at least 300 carries according to

“You wouldn’t think of a guy that runs as powerful as he does to have the breakaway speed he has,” Rankins said to “But he’s able to run away from guys, get to the edge and create huge plays for their offense.”

The most yards the Saints have given up to a running back was in their lone loss of the season in Week 1 when Tampa Bay’s Peyton Barber went for 69 yards.

Improving the run defense was a focus heading into this season.

“The only thing you know about this league is if you allow teams to be multi-dimensional … you’re in for a long day with the way offenses are set up now, with how creative they get and with the way the rules are that allow offenses free reign all over the field,” Rankins said. “You allow teams to run the ball and throw it on you, you just better pray you have a guy like No. 9 (quarterback Drew Brees) over there who’s on every week, because you’re going to be in some shootouts.”

The Saints have allowed only nine runs of 15 or more yards and no runs of 30-plus yards this season. The Saints lead the league by allowing just 73.2 rushing yards per game.

The Saints are up for the task of slowing down Elliott and leaving Dallas with an 11th consecutive victory.

“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge,” Saints linebacker Demario Davis said.