The Dallas Cowboys are officially off their bye and will be back in the building to start their week of preparations for their game against the Los Angeles Rams. In the week of the Cowboys’ bye, there was time to look ahead at this week’s opponent and get a feel for what the Cowboys will be up against come Sunday.
Watching the Rams on Sunday in their 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was thought-provoking. The Rams are a far different team from the one that won a Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago and have undergone several changes. Here are a few things to know about the Los Angeles Rams following their loss on Sunday.
1. Maher’s misses
The Rams are developing a bad habit they can’t quite kick, A habit the Dallas Cowboys saw rear its head at the worst possible time. Placekicker Brett Maher, now with the Rams, has yet another case of the yips and missed several kicks Sunday. He missed one kick from 53 yards out; that could be somewhat reasonable. However, Maher missed an attempt from 51 yards that went far left of the goalposts. Plus, he missed an extra point that he just shanked to the left.
Rams head coach Sean McVay has discussed his thoughts on the subject.
“We’ll look at it, and we’ll see,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said about Maher postgame, via The Athletic. “He’s got to be better. That’s seven points that we missed out on, that were key and critical for the momentum of the game and the type of game that it was. Those were tough ones, today.”
McVay could sign another kicker this week or stand by Maher. If he chooses the latter, he may be more aggressive to keep his offense on the field once they cross the 40-yard line, or more conservative to protect his defense since trusting Maher beyond 50 yards isn’t in their best interest right now.
2. Rams RB rotation
McVay has always been enigmatic regarding choices at running back. Those in the fantasy football community have been on the winning and losing end of McVay’s running back roulette. However, this season, there was some consistency at tailback with Kyren Williams demanding a lot of the snaps in running back usage out of the Rams backfield.
It was announced before the game that Kyren Williams and his backup, Ronnie Rivers, were placed on injured reserve. In a surprising twist, the team activated veterans Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman, and the two led the Rams backfield. The two runners combined for 30 carries for 127 rushing yards, with Henderson getting 18 total carries.
From now on, McVay could work other runners into the mix. Zac Evans is an intriguing player who was initially believed to be first in line after Williams and Rivers. McVay could decide to get him involved in a true running back by committee. For Dallas this week, predicting which runner will see most of the snaps and rushing opportunities is hard.
3. New look secondary
As stated, the Rams roster is different from the one we’ve come to know over the years, the secondary especially. Derion Kendrick is the Rams’ best cornerback, but after a tumultuous week off the field, he didn’t present his best against the Steelers. Pittsburgh wide receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson made several big plays against the Rams secondary. Akhello Witherspoon also struggled in coverage as he was beaten on timing routes and back-shoulder fades by Pickens. This could be something for Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb to exploit this week.
4. Puka Nacua, rookie sensation
This isn’t to be hyperbolic, but if the players didn’t have jersey numbers, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp. The Rams use Nacua similarly to Kupp and he has been terrific as a rookie fifth-round pick. He leads the NFL in receptions with 58, and it’s because he’s a quarterback-friendly receiver. Although in his first year, Nacua has a good understanding of where the soft spots are in zones.
Yesterday, he erupted for eight catches for 154 yards. Against Pittsburgh, the Rams also got him the ball in space for opportunities to make plays after the catch. The Cowboys will have the difficult task of containing Kupp and the emerging Nacua, a highlight waiting to happen.
5. Pressure on Stafford
Against the Steelers, quarterback Matt Stafford was under a lot of pressure from the Steelers pass rush. Stafford was sacked twice, but he was able to elude the rush a few times. Several times, he was forced to bail on the pocket or throw the football before he was ready. Another negative was unforced errors.
On one occasion, Stafford had a clean pocket, thanks to T.J. Watt playing in zone coverage off the ball. Stafford got tunnel vision on his intended receiver and threw a costly interception to Watt, his sixth interception against seven touchdown passes this season. The advanced analytics state that Stafford’s EPA+CPOE versus Pittsburgh was -.056, and his 51.9% completion percentage was nearly 20% lower than expected per rbsdm.com
That said, Stafford can still improvise outside of the pocket and make plays down the field, as evidenced by his 31-yard touchdown to Tutu Atwell. For the Cowboys to be successful this week, they need to pressure Stafford and let him set up their offense with short fields.