For many fans of the Dallas Cowboys, this December 15th game against the Los Angeles Rams has been circled on their calendar as it represents an opportunity to exorcise some West Coast demons. After last year’s disappointing loss in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, fans are hoping for a little payback.
The Rams find themselves in a little bit of a pinch as a three-game losing streak earlier in the season has the defending NFC champs sitting with an 8-5 record and fighting for a wild card playoff spot. The Cowboys, on the other hand, reside in the NFC East where winning football games isn’t as important. A loss on Sunday doesn’t really hurt them much mathematically.
It’s still an important game as the Cowboys need to get back to playing good football, and it would be great if they could finally beat a team with a winning record. Can they pull it off with a nice win in this revenge game or will the Rams keep their momentum going as they push for postseason action? Here are five things to watch on Sunday when these two teams square off.
1. Gurleys Just Wanna Have Fun
Two hundred and seventy three. That’s a number that should haunt fans as it’s the amount of rushing yards the Cowboys surrendered to the Rams in last year’s divisional playoff game. The defense allowed 100-yard games to both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson as Los Angeles ran all over them in that game.
Luckily for Dallas, Anderson isn’t carrying the rock for them this year. And some might think that Gurley hasn’t been either considering how little the Rams have used him this season. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, Gurley never had a game where he touched the ball 20 times. That’s just fine with us. We don’t miss him. But sadly, they’ve decided to put him back into the offense. Over the last month, he’s had three games where his workload has reached at least 20 touches. The Rams have won all three of those games.
The team has gone back to using Gurley just in time to exploit a vulnerable Cowboys run defense. Between poor angles and weak tackling attempts, the Cowboys have allowed at least 100 rushing yards in seven straight games. If Sean McVay attacks the middle and the Cowboys continue to exhibit poor tackling, this could be another excruciating day for the Cowboys run defense.
2. Watch Out For the Stretch Boot
Not only have the Rams found ways to get Gurley more involved, but the offense as a whole is starting to play better. After averaging under 12 points a game in the month of November, the Rams have now put up two straight 28+ point games. They’ve also compiled more than 1,000 yards of offense combined in those two games. This team is moving up and down the field.
The offensive line has been playing a lot better, and quarterback Jared Goff is starting to turn a corner as well. He’s had three straight games where he’s completed more than 70% of his passes. The Rams have been very effective using play action, and they love to bootleg with Goff rolling to his right and looking up the field for nice gains through the air.
The Cowboys defense has shown themselves to be susceptible to misdirection plays as they love to take the cheese. If they aren’t able to stay disciplined, look for the Rams offense to have a big day against them.
3. Stick Higbee
Jared Goff has a lot of different targets. Both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have over 900 yards on the season and are super dangerous when they get the ball in their hands. Those two receivers are going to cause all sorts of challenges for the Cowboys defensive backs as they are masterful at finding space in the secondary.
But those guys won’t be the only weapon of concern for the Dallas defense. Suddenly, Rams tight end Tyler Higbee has joined the party as he’s had 100 yards receiving in each of the last two games. That’s the same amount of 100-yard games as Odell Beckham Jr. has had all year. Higbee could be a problem.
4. New faces in a new places
This game features a handful of former first-round draft picks with something to prove in this game. In the offseason of 2018, the Rams traded away Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a fourth-round pick. This past offseason, the Cowboys scooped him away from Miami for just a six-round draft pick. Quinn leads the Cowboys with 9.5 sacks and will now go against the team that drafted him 14th overall in 2011.
Speaking of sixth-round picks, the Cowboys shipped a late-round draft pick in 2018 to the Rams in exchange for Tavon Austin. The Rams traded up in the 2013 NFL Draft to select Austin eight overall. It sure would be nice to see Austin have a splash play against his former team.
In October, the Rams made a move for another former first-round pick as they acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars. Ramsey isn’t a former Cowboys player, but he was close to being one as it came down to him or Ezekiel Elliott when Dallas had the fourth-overall pick in 2016. Ramsey came at a high price as it cost the Rams two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) as well as a fourth-rounder (2021). He’ll be tasked against another former-first rounder Amari Cooper, who the Cowboys traded for last season, and that will be a fun matchup to keep an eye on.
5. Kicking a bad habit
All eyes will be on Cowboys new kicker Kai Forbath when he trots on the field to attempt his first kick. That has to be an anxiety-filled moment for him. The feeling of relief or regret will fill Cowboys Nation based on where that first kick lands in relation to the uprights. The Cowboys have had trouble finishing drives this year and it’s very deflating to come away with absolutely nothing when the kickers shanks a very make-able kick. The team is hoping the change to Forbath fixes that problem. Fingers crossed.
What will you be watching on Sunday?