It is round two of the playoffs, and the Dallas Cowboys are headed out to the west coast to play the Los Angeles Rams. It is a contest between a team in LA that has a high-flying offense and one real monster on defense against a squad in the Cowboys that have struggled at times to score, but have been improving of late and have just found ways to win. Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle are looking forward to the game, and of course have some points they want to discuss.
Michael: As Red would say, I’m really excited about this opportunity; just a great opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the league and find out how you rate. I’ve repeatedly used the phrase “irrationally confident” as, rationally, it’s hard to make the argument Dallas should win this game. The offense simply isn’t wired to win a shootout against an explosive offense like the Rams. But, that’s what was said before the Saints game. Now, the defense has looked kinda vulnerable lately (in fact, it’s looked vulnerable at various times throughout the entire season). The Seahawks hit multiple big plays downfield but simply didn’t take enough shots. Expect the Rams to do so; expect them to target Awuzie and Jones and expose the not-so-great safety play.
That’s the rational thought. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Not sure how, not sure why. I just have faith in this particular Cowboys team. Seems like whenever one unit falters, another steps up. At various times this year every unit has struggled . . . and the other units have always managed to up their play and carry the team. I would not at all be surprised to see things we’re not accustomed to seeing - big plays from the offense, a defensive score, a blocked punt or field goal or long kick return. Basically I’m saying expect the unexpected as you never know what can happen in a single NFL game.
Tom: Ha, channeling your inner Garrett. I like it.
But let me say, I feel that the rational thing is to look at how these two teams have been trending, and that makes me feel pretty good about Dallas’ chances in this contest. We all know how the Cowboys have done, going on an 8-1 tear with just the (rather big) hiccup against the Indianapolis Colts. I think getting that one out of their system may have been a good thing as a bit of a wake-up call.
On the flip side, the Rams were just not the juggernaut of the early season over the last five games. Todd Gurley was of course hurt, and has been off the field for nearly a month. They were still limiting him in practice on Wednesday, so rust may be a real issue for him (he was a full participant in their final session, it must be mentioned). And Jared Goff was not the offensive machine of earlier during that same stretch, either. Dallas can’t dare sleep on those two, but they don’t strike fear in hearts as they once did. And their defense does not either, as long as you don’t let Aaron Donald beat you by himself. They are weak against the run, so Ezekiel Elliott may be feasting. Their secondary are a bunch of ballhawks, but also can give up some big plays, so there is certainly a chance for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup to make some big plays.
Michael: Yes, rationally you can make some sound arguments in favor of the good guys. Specifically, the Cowboys running against the Rams suspect run defense looks promising. I do think there’s one thing the Cowboys have to do - which they’ve been doing with regularity throughout this nice run - is play from ahead. They’re modus operandi simply works better when they’re able to play with a lead. Falling behind three or four points won’t be a disaster, but falling behind 10 points? That would spell trouble in my opinion. But the first quarter is where the Dallas defense has been outstanding. Dallas ranked first in the league in first quarter points surrendered (1.4 per game). Look at last week (held Seattle to three consecutive 3-and-outs) or New Orleans (held to 21 yards on first three drives).
Keeping the Rams off the scoreboard early, quieting the L.A. fans, frustrating the Rams offense is really a good recipe for success. It also relieves some pressure on the offense and allow them do their run-heavy, ball-control, clock-consuming thing. So yes, there are some rational reasons to feel optimistic. Of course that doesn’t touch on the reasons not to feel optimistic. But combine the rational reasons for optimism with the general feel-good vibe coming from this group and, as I said, I’m feeling pretty frisky about the team’s chances.
Tom: I’ll throw in a couple more things. The team has kept a really sharp edge with not having the bye week. It does have the downside of the Cowboys’ injury report dwarfing that of the Rams, but if you put any faith in the idea of momentum, Dallas has a truckload of it. The defense is fired up and wants to do the same thing this week as you pointed out from the Saints and Seahawks games. And I think Zeke is licking his chops to put up some big numbers.
But the real thing for me is Dakota Rayne Prescott. He has been truly clutch, playing his best ball when the margin is within one score either way. Despite the threat of Donald, I think he will show that last week was not a fluke. I think the Cowboys’ season is not about to end on Saturday. I look for a score like 27-20 in Dallas’ favor with the defense keeping Goff and company well in check.
Michael: Yes, the QB is always important. And not to end on a downer here, but Dak is going to have to do better than he has on the road this season; his splits are not good:
But I ‘m going back to my original thought - I’m drunk with optimism. I think the Cowboys play the best game they’ve played all season. I think they combine their usual ground-and-pound with some big plays and win going away: 33-17.
OK, there you have it. So what do you predict?
What do you think the final score will be?
This poll is closed
Cowboys keep the momentum going and win by a touchdown or more.
It’s close, but Dallas escapes with a win and advances.
Heartbreak at the wire for Dallas as the season comes to an end in a close loss.
It’s Sean McVay, offensive genius! Dallas gets exposed and slinks home to lick their wounds.