After a tough, hard fought victory on Monday night the Cowboys have a quick turnaround against a team that had about three days of rest before Dallas even kicked off in Arizona last week. The Rams were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league this year with a possible bust at quarterback in 2016 first-overall pick Jared Goff, Todd Gurley coming off a disappointing second season, and little to no other surrounding talent to speak of aside from superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
What many people overlooked though, aside from the general incompetence from outgoing coach Jeff Fisher, was that the Rams actually made several quality under the radar moves this offseason. They signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth, an aging player for sure, but he’s a steadying presence who has been one of the best at his position in the league despite his age over the last few years, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016, and being named First Team All-Pro in 2015. They also signed John Sullivan at center, a less well known name than Whitworth, but he is another veteran presence on the line who has years of starting experience. They also traded for receiver Sammy Watkins, a player who looked destined for stardom after his first two years in the league before struggling with a foot injury all of last season.
None of these moves are especially earth-shattering individually, but collectively they represent a sizeable upgrade in talent and professionalism that the Rams did not have last year around their young quarterback. To top it all off Sean McVay, young as he is, has experience manufacturing offense around another solid, if somewhat limited, quarterback in Kirk Cousins during his time with the Redskins. What McVay’s system does isn’t especially innovative, but it is pragmatic and certainly makes things easier on quarterbacks by emphasizing short, easy throws designed to get receivers opportunities for yards after the catch in order to build the quarterback’s confidence and get them in rhythm before taking shots deep.
What I’m getting at here is that after playing in an archaic offense surrounded with little talent last season, Goff is now playing with legitimate NFL talent in a modern, logical offense that gives him a chance at success.
All of that is well and good, but there is a level of overreaction on the part of fans and the media relative to what the Rams actually are right now. They are much improved and Goff certainly doesn’t look like an outright bust anymore, but in reality much of that perception was based off knee-jerk reactions from fans and media based off a small sample size last season. Now that those perceptions are being shattered it seems many are going way too far in the opposite direction.
In reality Goff had just two touchdowns and one interception over the first two games of the season before tearing apart the 49ers last week, a team who may quite possibly be the worst in the league. Gurley is only averaging 3.8 YPC on the year and the team’s two wins came against the Scott Tolzien-led Colts, which clearly should be taken with a mountain of salt, and then a narrow two-point win over the 49ers on the road last week.
They aren’t the worst team around anymore, nor are they a team you can sleepwalk against and still be confident that you’ll win as they were last year, but they aren’t anywhere near the top of the conference either.
Defensively there is plenty of name recognition with guys like Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, and Trumaine Johnson, but they’re in the bottom 10 in the league in both points and rushing yards allowed, and they’re just outside the bottom 10 in passing yards allowed.
Defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers can be a nightmare on the interior but when you have those types of defensive rankings after playing three games, two of which came against Scott Tolzien and Brian Hoyer, well, you tell me what that means.
At the end of the day the Cowboys are the better team, they’re at home, and as long as they don’t kill themselves with penalties and turnovers there is absolutely no excuse for them not to win. This will be the worst defense the Cowboys will have faced to this point in the season, and while the Rams offense is certainly improved with a play-caller in McVay who knows the Cowboys defense very well, it still isn’t a unit who can control games on the road against tough opponents.
After a rocky first three games for the offense I expect Dak Prescott and company to get rolling like they haven’t yet so far this season. I expect Ezekiel Elliott to look like the 2016 version for the first time and for the offense to finally play a complete game.
Defensively there is reason for concern due to the possible absence of the brain of the defense, Sean Lee, and with a good play-caller like McVay that could certainly pose problems as far as busted assignments and mistakes, but even if Lee isn’t able to go I expect them to do enough to keep the Rams under wraps while the offense controls the pace of the game.
If it weren’t for the injury to Lee and the fact that the Rams have had several extra days to rest while the Cowboys are coming off short rest I’d be predicting a Dallas blowout here. As it is I think the Rams could keep it close for a while if Lee is out and the defense gets out of sorts as a result, but in the end I’m going with the Cowboys, 30-20.