The season came to a crashing halt for the Dallas Cowboys as they fell to the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 30-22. It was a stunning way for Dallas to lose, as it was the Rams’ running game that completely dominated them. Los Angeles didn’t just have one 100 yard rusher. Both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson eclipsed the century mark. And caught in a shootout, the Cowboys’ offense was just too inconsistent, and that defensive line of the Rams just was too much for the Dallas running offense to get on track.
If this game has any influence on the future of Scott Linehan in Dallas, it should be the final straw. This was a clear contrast between old school and new wave offenses, and the Rams had the better of it all game long. Jared Goff was able to read what the defense was giving him and make the call accordingly. Pre-snap motion confounded the Cowboys, and motion during the play just made it worse. Dallas has the personnel to run such a system, but unless they find someone who can utilize these kinds of innovative approaches, they are going to remain a team that is often far too easy to defend. They make the same kind of mistake that Pete Carroll made a week ago, by insisting on trying to gain yards up the middle when it simply is not working. Ezekiel Elliott never got going, only managing 47 yards and 2.3 per carry, while the other guys were doing much, much better.
And a big part of all that was how the Cowboys would make their intentions fairly clear with personnel and formation, while the McVay offense keeps you guessing all the way.
Throughout this game the Rams’ offensive line just shredded the Cowboys’ defensive front. They used an overpowering run game to completely control the first half, with Todd Gurley getting 80 yards rushing and C.J. Anderson adding 78, for a 7.1 yards per carry average. This was Sean McVay’s offense on full display, as the Dallas defenders were clearly confused. McVay runs almost everything out of 11 personnel, and tips nothing in advance. Add in some hurry-up to keep the defense off balance, and Los Angeles was just ripping off yards in chunks. It led to a huge advantage in time of possession and total yards as Dallas was unable to sustain drives.
The Cowboys moved the ball well on their first possession, aided by a personal foul on Marcus Peters. They did have to convert a fourth down, but it was capped by a 29 yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper. But as often happens, Prescott cooled off after starting hot, and the team was unable to move the ball until it was too late, with some missed opportunities on bad throws as Ezekiel Elliott was finding far less running room. There was also a really strange sack, the lone one in the entire game, as Prescott was called “in the grasp” for an eight yard loss. The problem was that he was being held by his own player, La’el Collins, who was trying to keep him upright to extend the play.
With the running game so efficient and Jared Goff making some key throws on third down, the Rams did not have to punt the ball before halftime. The one shot the Cowboys had to get off the field was ruined by a hands-to-the-face call on Byron Jones away from the play. Things did not get better after halftime, as Dallas went three and out to open the third quarter and the Rams just marched down the field. A bad handoff at least saved four points, but the ensuing field goal pushed the lead to 16 for Los Angeles.
The game was close to being out of hand at that point. The Cowboys needed a drive. Again, they had to convert a fourth down and Prescott misfired on some wide open looks. A holding call put them in first and 20, and then good Dak re-emerged as he scrambled away from pressure and found Michael Gallup for 44 yards to the one. Zeke would pound it in two plays later, and then Jason Garrett would dial up a two point conversion to Cooper. Suddenly, despite being so thoroughly outgained for almost the entire game, the Cowboys were in a one-score game with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
Still, the defense was going to have to come up with a stop. While they had managed to force field goal attempts on several drives, they had not managed to put the Rams into a punting situation for most of three quarters. Finally, they were able to do so. It was a case where McVay may have flinched, as the Rams had a fourth and two at the Cowboys’ 47. They had been able to get two yards all day - and usually a lot more. But LA sent out the punt team. They did try some moving around like they were going to run a play instead of kicking but the Dallas special teams held fast and the punt was backed up five yards after the delay of game. The defense finally got off the fiteld and, after a shanked punt that only went 29 yards, the offense was back in business at their own 23.
It stalled as the Cowboys finally got stuffed on a fourth down. It was one of those plays that sometimes drive you crazy about Dallas, because they went with their big set, bunching everyone up in the middle, and handing it off to Elliott right up the middle. That is often a prescription for failure, and when you have Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh lined up across from you, it is basically just a stupid call.
The Rams promptly marched down the field again, and despite the Cowboys being able to get it to fourth-and-goal, Anderson would punch it in for a TD and make the margin 15 points with only 7:16 left to play. The Cowboys would cut it back to eight points again, but with only 2:11 left in the game. Goff would convert a third and seven with his legs, Anderson would do it again, and that was that.