Sunday morning may not have been the best start to week 4 in the NFL for Cowboys fans, with the Giants beginning the day by upsetting the Packers in London to reach 4-1 and the latest update on Dak Prescott being that a return for week six at the Eagles is unlikely. By the late afternoon though, a familiar feeling was felt throughout Cowboys Nation, as the combination of Cooper Rush and a dominant Dallas defense earned the team a fourth straight win by beating Los Angeles.
By topping the Rams 22-10, the Cowboys kept their streak of not allowing 20 or more points this season, and took it a step further on both defense and special teams by scoring on a DeMarcus Lawrence fumble return and blocking a punt. Both plays were sparked by defensive end Dorance Armstrong, who led a front four that consistently got after Matt Stafford.
On offense, the Cowboys overcame drops and only completing ten passes all game to control the ball when they needed to and help keep the game out of reach. It was the type of winning game plan they’ve executed without Prescott since week one, having now beat both of last year’s Super Bowl participants with Rush under center.
Before turning the page to a critical matchup with the undefeated Eagles, here are a few notes on the Cowboys impressive win at the Rams.
- Dorance Armstrong became the latest player to make the Cowboys front office look smart in their offseason decisions this game, making the most of his opportunity with a sack, forced fumble, and blocked punt. The Cowboys chose to extend Armstrong after not re-signing Randy Gregory, and it’s been his flexibility moving around the defense that’s made a difference. With offenses more worried about where Micah Parsons or DeMarcus Lawrence are lining up, Armstrong has made runs at the quarterback to show off his speed and finishing ability.
The Cowboys best looks defensively this season had been their aggressive pressure looks, which includes using Armstrong as a standup rusher. Dan Quinn dialed back these looks against a Rams offense that lives for big plays against the blitz, but saw his front four generate plenty of pressure, where Sam Williams and on the interior Osa Odighizuwa made some of their best plays of the season. Both were in the backfield when Parsons forced the game-ending fumble, with the rookie Williams making the recovery.
- The Rams only hit two plays over 20 yards in this game, and both were on passes against Trevon Diggs. The first was a perfect ball over the top to Tutu Atwell to put L.A. in the red zone, where they were held to a field goal, and the other was a long Cooper Kupp touchdown with Diggs covering out of the slot without safety help. Donovan Wilson was caught in a bad spot here, playing as the lone deep safety as opposed to down on the second level where he’s been at his best this season. As the Cowboys work Jayron Kearse back in the lineup, Wilson should see more snaps here while Kearse and Hooker - who came up with a fourth-quarter interception - handle the deep safety roles.
Not only did Diggs make up for these plays by playing physical on the boundary and stepping up in run support, but the Cowboys secondary as a whole had a strong game tackling. Taking away the run game may be more important against a Sean McVay offense than any other in the NFL right now, and the Cowboys did this despite coming in allowing the highest rate of explosive runs in the league.
Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr made plays both against the run and in coverage, as the Cowboys showed they can compete against elite QBs without having to risk all-out blitzes, forcing Stafford to put drives together down two possessions for most of the second half.
- Winning with a backup QB is a great way to cover up any shortcomings in play-calling, and Kellen Moore has mostly deserved praise for his game plans with Cooper Rush. The one sequence he may wish he had back was the three and out following a Rams missed field goal in the fourth quarter. Set up with good field position, the Cowboys got away from their play-action game and missed a deep throw to Lamb on first down before running Elliott on second and long. Lamb should have moved the chains on third down but dropped a pass that would have extended the drive, keeping the Rams in the game.
With all of the focus in Dallas shifting towards how they can beat the 5-0 Eagles this week, it’s details like this that can be cleaned up to help the Cowboys not rush Prescott back into the lineup. His added mobility to the offense would be a welcome sight with Jalen Hurts on the other side, who ran for two scores at the Cardinals on Sunday, but Rush continues to give his receivers plenty of chances to make plays.