Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Rams is much more exciting than it was originally pegged to be. Who would have thought after watching last season that the Rams would be surging on offense while Dallas is slowly getting their offense together? Who would expect that the Cowboys’ defense would be tied for second in the NFL with 11 sacks in three games?
There are going to be other storylines in this game like the 2016 first overall pick versus the forgotten quarterback who had a sensational rookie year. No matter how they both got where they are, Jared Goff and Dak Prescott are two exciting young players who are rejuvenating their franchises.
These two teams are a good test for one another even if the Cowboys are favorites. Let’s focus on the Cowboys’ offense first as this is a game that can heal their slow start. The Giants, Broncos, and Cardinals defenses were all ranked in the Top-10 defenses of last season. That was sort of a murderer’s row for the Cowboys to draw weeks one through three.
With the Rams coming in, they have formidable pass rushers with Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and Connor Barwin. That group has ten sacks in three games, they’re well-equipped to get after the quarterback. The Cowboys’ offensive line will be on high alert with Brockers and Donald.
Where there are advantages for the Cowboys is that this Wade Phillips’ defense is aggressive but sometimes to a detriment. They tend to give up huge chunk plays both in the run and pass. They allow 25 points per game, including six rushing scores and two passing touchdowns.
The team that handed them their one loss, the Redskins, found huge success on the ground in the form of 229 rushing yards. All three running backs had big chunk gains as Rob Kelley had runs of 19 and 21. Samaje Perine had the bulk of the carries (21) with runs of 10, 11, and 12 but Chris Thompson carried the ball three times, one was a 61-yard score, he also had a seven-yard score too. Even in week one, the Colts only managed 75 rushing yards but had runs of 16 and 24 yards.
It’s pretty obvious that the Cowboys have to get a jolt from their running game. The Rams are 29th in the league in run defense, allowing 139 rushing yards per game. In total, they’ve allowed 32 attempts per game for 417 yards with a 4.3 yards per carry average. The Cowboys finally started showing some rushing success in the second-half of this past game with the Cardinals. Ezekiel Elliott finally broke a 30-yard run out and he got his first rushing score. If there were ever a game for this team to return to a dominating ground attack, it’s this one. Los Angeles has already given up four runs of 20+ yards and one of 40+ yards, that’s among the worst through three weeks.
The stats say the Rams are much better at defending the pass, currently 11th in the league, allowing 204 passing yards per game and an 83.9 passer rating. With that said, their opposing quarterbacks have been Scott Tolzien, Kirk Cousins, and Brian Hoyer. Take a guess who had the best game. It was actually Hoyer, who threw for over 330 passing yards and had three touchdowns. Though the Rams held Cousins to less than 200 passing yards and one touchdown, we just showed you that Washington relied heavily on the 229 rushing yards in that contest.
This Rams’ secondary is manned up by Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner (out for this game). Johnson is a very opportunistic player as his seven interceptions in 2015 got him paid but he’s far from the Janoris Jenkins, Aqib Talib, or Patrick Peterson’s of the world. Johnson only had one interception last season but this year he’s already got a pick-six and forced fumble (both against Colts). He’s got help from a hard-hitting safety Mo Alexander but not having Joyner will hurt this unit. Mark Barron, former first-rounder from the Buccaneers, has been moved from safety to linebacker due to coverage concerns.
There will be passing lanes for Dak Prescott as long as he’s protected. The play-action passing game will help him as always. Wade Phillips will do his best to double up on Dez Bryant but this secondary will be a relief compared to what he’s been seeing. Just a week ago, this back end was bruised by Pierre Garcon for seven catches for 142 yards and almost 21 yards per catch.
They allowed passing plays of 34, 50, and 59 yard gains against the 49ers. They were better against Washington, allowing two passing plays of 20+ yards. In week one against the Colts, they allowed two 21-yard passes, a 34-yarder, and 50-yard pass as well. Overall, they are tied with four teams (including the Cowboys) for fourth-most 20+yard passing plays allowed and second-most for 40+ yard plays allowed with three. The Cowboys must take advantage of these tendencies to give up big yardage. Offensively, this is a game that the Cowboys could come alive in but they must execute a lot better than they have been.
The Rams offense is what will present the biggest difficulties for the Cowboys. Defensively, the Cowboys have been a mixed bag but their calling cards have been their 13th ranked scoring defense (20.7 points per game, impressive considering the Denver game) and their pass rush which as we mentioned is second in sacks.
It’ll be of the utmost importance to contain Todd Gurley. His rushing numbers of roughly 80 yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry, 241 total rushing yards doesn’t seem too scary? Well, he’s got four rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns to go with it. He’s just as big a player in the short passing game with 17 catches for 140 receiving yards and an average of almost 11 yards per reception. The Cowboys’ defense will have to be ready for him in both areas of the offense. The one area of his game that excites guys like Rod Marinelli is that he’s fumbled four times in three games. Gurley’s only lost one of those fumbles though so the Cowboys will have to pounce on any opportunities.
So, the Rams have played two teams that will likely be picking in the Top-10 next year in Indianapolis and San Francisco. These Rams did what they were supposed to and racked up 87 points in those two games. In their loss to Washington, they were held to 20 points. The Redskins have a better secondary right now than that of the Cowboys. Dallas is banged up and may even be missing their All-Pro linebacker in this contest. The Rams rank Top-10 in points per game at 35.7 (1st), total yards at 374.3 per game (7th), and passing yards at 279 per game (5th).
Their quarterback, Jared Goff is among the best passers this early into the season. He’s third in total QBR for guys who have at least played 100 snaps. Goff is eighth in passing yards with over 800, he’s third in completion percentage at 70%, first in yards per attempt at 10.09, and third in passer rating 118.2. He’s also thrown five touchdowns to one interception. His head coach Sean McVay has put him in the best positions to succeed. Offensively, this is a team that is feeling quite confident in their abilities to move the ball in this game.
No matter who the team is, putting up 40+ points on NFL teams is pretty hard to do. Unlike 2008, when Adam “Pacman” Jones said “it’s the Rams dude”, nobody should be thinking this will be easy pickings for the home team. The Cowboys are still looking for their awakening on offense while doing their best to bend but not break on defense. Dallas must start off fast and score early to get this train rolling and hope they’re not in for a shoot out. It’ll likely come down to the defense that can cause the most disruption, let’s hope their gutsy win over Arizona was the kickstart these Cowboys’ needed.