Ezekiel Elliott was held in check Thursday night, not just by the Buccaneers' defense but also by his head coach.

Mike McCarthy opted not to give his top running back many touches in the Cowboys' 31-29 loss in Tampa. Elliott had just 11 carries — the second-lowest total of his five-season NFL career — despite the Cowboys running 77 total plays.

Elliott averaged 16.3 carries per game last season in McCarthy's first year with Dallas. He never had fewer than 12 carries in his 15 games.

Naturally, that led many people to ask why Elliott got so little work in Week 1 of 2021. The answer turned out to be simple.

Tampa Bay has had the NFL's No. 1-ranked run defense in back-to-back seasons. It allowed 82.7 rushing yards per game last season and 73.8 rushing yards per game in 2019. McCarthy avoided running the ball and tried instead to take advantage of the Buccaneers' secondary.

That secondary wound up having to deal with multiple injury issues Thursday night. Starting safety Jordan Whitehead (hamstring) was inactive. Starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting suffered a dislocated elbow in the first half. Mike Edwards — who started in place of Whitehead — had to miss time because of cramping.

Elliott didn't get the ball much because of matchups. McCarthy said that to NBC's broadcast after Elliott, Tony Pollard and Dak Prescott combined for just seven first-half carries.