Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, shown scoring a touchdown at Detroit last Sunday, is among the NFL leaders in rushing with 833 yards on 194 attempts. Paul Sancya/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The perceived weakness of the New England Patriots’ defense is stopping the run. Last week in Philadelphia, the unit took a step toward changing that perception, holding the Philadelphia Eagles to just 81 yards on the ground.

To beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the unit is going to have to do an even better job against Ezekiel Elliott.

It’s one thing to shut down an Eagles team that was missing its top back, Jordan Howard. It’s another to stuff the Cowboys with Elliott, who is among the NFL leaders in rushing (833 yards on 194 attempts).

Speaking with several defensive coaches from the Patriots on Friday, they are well aware of the distinction. Given the strength of the Cowboys offensive line and the ability of Elliott, it’s a greater challenge this week.

“He’s a good player and he can hurt you in many different ways. When you get good players like him, you have to have a high awareness of where he is at all times,” said Patriots outside linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington. “If we’re able to stop him, especially in the running game, that’ll be a key success for us. I’d say it’s a top priority.”

The Patriots didn’t start fast in Philadelphia, with the Eagles putting points on the board on two of their first three possessions. After that, the defense shut them out, forcing eight punts and a fumble. Defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy were especially effective up front against the Eagles.

“Every game, you go in with a game plan. Sometimes it works out very well. Sometimes you have to make adjustments, and I thought our guys adjusted into that Philly game very well,” said defensive line coach Bret Bielema. “We played our techniques and did things better.

“Obviously, going into this week against Dallas … they’ve done some things we’ve seen, but they also have a unique style, especially with their running back. He’s a very good player who has the ability to take the ball inside, outside, and they have very good offensive linemen. So they have a challenge that’s very unique to them.”

Bielema fully expects the Cowboys to test the defense, and hit them with their ground attack first.

Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo agreed with the assessment.

“Every week, first and foremost, it’s about stopping the run. And when you look at the Cowboys, and you look at the strength of that offense, it starts with the offensive line,” said Mayo. “They have a bunch of big guys up there who are able to move bodies, so we’re going to have to do a good job.”

Mayo agreed this test would tell the Patriots more about their ability to stop the run.

“I think so. Each and every week is a challenge. This is our biggest challenge,” he said. “The Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in the league, averaging over 400 yards a game, and they’re very balanced, they can run it, they can throw it, they can do a bunch of different things. So we’re definitely looking forward to the challenge.”

TOM BRADY is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, but he is expected to play, a source told the Boston Herald.

Brady popped up on the injury report Friday because of a right elbow injury. He wasn’t listed as injured on the team’s practice reports Wednesday and Thursday. Brady is one of 12 players considered questionable, along with wide receivers Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (illness).

Sanu will not play, according to a source.

Brady has played all but 15 of the Patriots’ offensive snaps this season.

Amid one of his worst statistical seasons to date, the 42-year-old currently ranks outside the league’s top 15 in several categories, including completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passer rating.

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