O'HARA'S WEEK 4 CHECKLIST: Lions at Cowboys

Quote to note: “If you run the ball well, you would expect play action to be a little more effective. The more you can be successful in different areas, I think the tougher it is to defend.” Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, on the improved running game’s impact.

Series history: The Cowboys have a 13-11 lead in the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason. They won the last meeting, 42-21, in 2016 to stop a two-game losing streak to the Lions in the regular season.

Kerryon, looking ahead: Kerryon Johnson is looking ahead and wanting to do more – the same way his running style allows him to get yards after contact and break through barriers that haunted the Lions’ offense for almost five full years.

The talented rookie running back knows and appreciates what his 101-yard rushing performance in last week’s win over the Patriots meant for the Lions and their fans, but he quickly turned his focus to Sunday’s road game against the Dallas Cowboys.

He didn’t seek pats on the back from well-wishers.

“I stay in my home,” Johnson said this week. “I don’t go out. They (the fans) are happy. I love them for it. That’s something I’m sure they’ve been waiting on way longer than I have.

“You put it behind you and get back to work. Go out there and play hard again. I did it last week. I did it the week before that. I wouldn’t expect myself to do anything different this week.”

Johnson disagreed that the bar has been raised on expectations for the running game.

“We always believed in this offense and this offensive line especially,” he said. “We always felt it was something we could do. We just have to go out and continue to do it.”

Matchup: A challenging day looms for the Lions: The Cowboys are 11th in run defense (98.3 yards per game) and fourth in yards per carry (3.4).

Cowboys’ O stopping Elliott: Opposing defenses are getting help from the Cowboys’ offensive struggles in stopping star running back Zeke Elliott.

He has put up good stats in the first three games – 274 yards to tie the 49ers’ Matt Brieda for the league lead and 5.7 yards per carry – but his workload is down because of the Cowboys’ anemic offense.

The Cowboys have scored only 41 points, second fewest to Arizona’s 20, and just 19 points have come in the first three quarters. The Cowboys have had to abandon the run late in games, which has cut down on Elliott’s rushing attempts.

“I’d love to see it more,” Elliott told reporters covering the Cowboys this week. “It’s the nature of the first three games we played. We’ve been down. It’s hard to come back and try to run the ball.

“When you’re running out of time in the game, you can’t be sitting there trying to pound it. You’ve got to conserve that clock and try to score as fast as you can.”

Elliott has 48 carries, an average of 16 per game. That’s far below what he averaged his first two seasons – 24.2 for 10 games in 2017, and 21.5 as a rookie in 2016.

Matchup: The Lions’ run defense is last in yards allowed (149.3 per game) and yards per carry (5.4).

Elliott was outstanding in a light workload in the Cowboys’ 42-21 win over the Lions in 2016. He had 12 carries for 80 yards and two TDs. One TD was a 55-yard run. He’s a threat to go the distance on any of them.

Sack race: It’s a tight battle between the two defenses, with a slight edge to the Cowboys, and a wide margin for the Lions’ offense.

The Cowboys are tied for second in the league with 11 sacks, and they’re third in sacks per pass play. The Lions have 10 sacks, and they’re second in sacks per play. The Lions are No. 1 with only three sacks allowed, and No. 1 in sacks allowed per play. The Cowboys are 26th with 11 sacks allowed and 28th in sacks allowed per play.

Prediction: Last impressions count for something, but it’s not just what the Lions did in beating the Patriots and what the Cowboys didn’t do in losing to the Seahawks. The Lions have hit their stride on offense and are picking it up on defense. This is a game they should win.

Lions 24, Cowboys 16.

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