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Kris Richard’s familiarity with the Rams could help the Cowboys pull the upset

The de facto defensive coordinator knows this team well.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In the regular season, the Seahawks were tied for the sixth best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 26.8 points a game. In their Wild Card game against Dallas, they only managed 22 points, which would have ranked them 21st in the NFL. A big reason for that was defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard’s familiarity with the Seahawks.

Richard was a coach with the Seahawks for eight seasons, and even before that he spent two years as a graduate assistant with Pete Carroll at USC. To say that he knows the Seahawks head coach very well would be an understatement. And even though Seattle has two new coordinators this year, Richard still knew a lot of Seattle’s players, most notably the star trio of Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, and Tyler Lockett. With that inside knowledge, Richard was able to bottle up the Seahawks offense fairly well.

Luckily, Richard has a similar level of familiarity with the Rams team that the Cowboys will face off against on Saturday night. He’s been facing the Rams twice a year for the last eight years, and Richard was actually there before Jeff Fisher was the Rams head coach, which seems like ages ago. And while Richard’s tenure in Seattle only overlapped one year with Sean McVay’s time as the Rams head coach, Richard has some experience coaching against this offense’s two biggest stars.

Richard’s first year as defensive coordinator in Seattle was also Todd Gurley’s rookie season, and while Gurley only played in one game against Seattle that year, Richard’s defense held up well against the former tenth overall draft pick. It was the regular-season finale and Gurley was on a role, but Seattle limited him to just 83 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. The next year was even better for Richard’s unit. In the first meeting, Gurley only rushed for 51 yards on 19 carries and no touchdowns, and in the second meeting Gurley was held to even less production, getting 38 yards on 14 carries and again no score.

The caveat here is that this was still Fisher’s team, which ran a very bland offense, but nevertheless it was an offense predicated on the running game. In 2017, though, McVay sought to utilize Gurley more in the passing game than Fisher had ever dreamed of. In McVay’s first game against Richard’s defense - which, coincidentally, was played on the road in Los Angeles - Gurley was once again held scoreless. The running back picked up 43 yards on 14 carries, and he was thrown to four times and only caught two passes for seven yards.

However, Gurley did manage to best Richard in the next matchup that year, as he totaled 152 rushing yards on 21 carries and catching all three passes thrown his way for 28 receiving yards, and putting up four total touchdowns. It was the first time in his career that Gurley had over 100 yards against Seattle, and the game is pointed to as one of the reasons the Seahawks fired Richard after the year was over. But that ignores the fact that Gurley, now an MVP contender, has only averaged 73.4 yards a game against Richard-coached defenses.

Richard also coached against Jared Goff in the quarterback’s first two years in Los Angeles. Like Gurley, Goff only played against Seattle once in his rookie year, as the former first overall draft pick wasn’t starting until later in the year, but his first game against the Seahawks was a rough one. Goff completed 51% of his passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. He was also sacked four times and fumbled once.

But Goff’s terrible rookie year has largely been chalked up to running an offensive scheme that didn’t use him right, and Goff rebounded in a big way in 2017 with McVay calling the shots. Still, he had the worst game of his season against the Seahawks in Los Angeles, as the quarterback completed just 46% of his passes and while he threw for 288 yards, he had zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked twice and fumbled once, and his overall passer rating for that game was an abysmal 48.9.

Goff’s other game against Richard’s defense last year came in the game where Gurley broke out for four touchdowns, and Goff was certainly better than his other Seattle game, but still just average. He completed 66% of his passes for 120 yards and had two touchdown passes with an interception, two sacks, and a fumble. His 5.71 yards per attempt in that game was the lowest all year for him, but it got the job done with a win.

And even though the Rams won that game by a big margin, the fact remains that Richard’s defense shut down McVay’s offense in Los Angeles, limiting them to just 10 points and not allowing either Gurley or Goff to play well. Richard certainly knows these players and has some familiarity with McVay as well, and that experience should help out the Cowboys much in the same way it did against the Seahawks last week.

There are other secret weapons for Dallas, too. Tavon Austin spent the last five years with the Rams, and should have at least some insight into the way the Rams approach their games each week. But more than that, the Rams have a familiar face running their defense in Wade Phillips. The former Cowboys head coach is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL right now, and despite his defense regressing this year as a whole, Phillips can be dangerous against opposing offenses. But head coach Jason Garrett should know plenty about the guy, as he spent three and a half years working under Phillips in Dallas.

So as the Cowboys prepare for an important road playoff game where they’re already underdogs in Vegas, the familiarity that this team has with the Rams could be a huge factor in trying to score an upset victory and inch closer towards the Super Bowl.

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