CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Dallas Cowboys don't bother hiding their intentions. Their offensive line drops into its stance -- fortified by three All-Pros -- throws down the sawdust and imposes its will.
The best NFL teams often share a common threat. They run when they want to, not when they have to. The Cowboys offensive line mesh like links in a chain, doing everything together from meals to vacations. They symbolize strength, chemistry and dominance.
"Gotta be better than us to beat us," Elliott told The Dallas Morning News.
They stomp into Denver on Sunday, looking to ground up the Broncos. For the Broncos to open the season 2-0 -- more important than you think given the season-ending flurry of road games -- the question is simple: Other than a favorable NFL court ruling, how do they stop Ezekiel Elliott?
"I feel like nobody has made them uncomfortable yet," Derek Wolfe told Denver7. "They have their way with people. It's time for somebody go out there... go out there and outhustle them."
Nobody disputes the talent of the Cowboys' brutes upfront, but Elliott deserves credit, too. He is an elite back. He has rushed for 15 touchdowns and 1,735 yards in 16 regular-seasons games. He averages 5.0 yards per carry, demonstrating speed, vision and tremendous instincts without taking big hits. He was considered a complete back at Ohio State because of his ability in pass protection and in routes.
"I only played with him one year in college. But every time he went in, it seemed like he got a first down," cornerback Bradley Roby said.
Nothing changed in Dallas, other than his profile. He holds the key to the Cowboys' offense. Zeke provides the flash. And their line -- they are like Arby's. They Have the Meats.
"They are anointed by everyone, talking about how this is the best O-line ever," nose tackle Domata Peko said. "This is a challenge. And we accept this challenge."
Elliott has rushed for at least 80 yards in 16 straight games. His worst game as pro came in his debut. Since, there have been few speed bumps. The Ravens held him to 3.88 yards per attempt last November, and the Vikings contained him, limiting the star to 86 yards on 20 carries.
The Broncos' rush defense receives an early season litmus test. The Broncos devoted the offseason to adding bodies upfront, signing free agents Peko and Zach Kerr, who should play this Sunday. In the opener, the emphasis paid off with the Broncos allowing 64 yards rushing, including 21 on the first carry.
Denver will need Wolfe, who admittedly became tired in the opener after missing a month with a sprained ankle, Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris and Peko at their best. Defensive end Jared Crick did not practice Thursday, increasing the possibility he will miss his second straight game. Wolfe is a proven run stopper, and will relish the old-school brawl against a Cowboys team that runs four run plays.
"They do them well," Von Miller told Denver7. "We know we can't let Zeke run wild."
Gotsis played his best game as a pro, showing a healthy knee and benefiting from added strength. Harris is a bit of a tweener, but provided valuable snaps. The ability of Wolfe, Gotsis and Peko to squeeze running lanes is critical. The Cowboys offensive line boasts three pillars in center Travis Frederick and tackles Zack Martin and Tyron Smith. They punish teams with a rare physicality. They will allow sacks every 18 pass attempts, not the best, but functional for a team that doesn't air it out.
The Broncos leverage should exist with the ability load the box against Elliott. No team trusts its corners more than the Broncos do Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.
"We are comfortable with that," said Harris. "We have done it before."
And with Darian Stewart (groin injury) back practicing, there is no fear of two young safeties starting, leaving the Broncos vulnerable to play action and bootlegs. The Vikings ability to match up on the outside allowed them to plug gaps last season vs. the Cowboys. But defensive coordinator Joe Woods might have to be creative. Tyrique Jarrett -- a Mini-Me of Terrance Knighton -- could be needed for some snaps, and linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis, who delivered the hit of the game against San Diego in the run game, must be viewed as weapons on blitzes.
Everything with the Cowboys starts with the run game. So for the Broncos to win, they must stop, or least slow, Elliott and force Dak Prescott to beat them by throwing more than he'd like.
"It starts with every guy winning his one on ones," said Gotsis, "and doing their job."
Right guard Ron Leary (concussion) watched practice with his helmet on, appearing to go through mental reps. It represented another positive sign as he attempts to be cleared to play Sunday against his former team. ... Crick not practicing illustrates the difficulty of back injuries. Players experience good and bad days, and it leaves Crick's availability in real question Sunday.