At long last, the Dallas Cowboys are back in action this weekend from AT&T Stadium, their first home game since a week four dismantling of the New England Patriots. While on the bye over week seven, the quality of the Cowboys four wins to this point improved when the Jets and Patriots (teams Dallas beat by a combined score of 68-13) beat the Eagles and Bills. The Giants beat the Commanders with Tyrod Taylor at QB, while the Chargers dropped a back-and-forth affair at the Chiefs. The stage is set for the Cowboys to use their week eight home contest against the Rams as a ramp to build into a playoff contender, but it won’t come easy as they get a Los Angeles team off a tough 24-17 home loss to the Steelers.
The last time the Cowboys were on the field was also against a Los Angeles team, showing some sense of urgency against the Chargers as they gutted out a one-score win partially behind Dan Quinn’s defense. The offense went into the bye week with glimpses of Brandin Cooks being a more regular contributor, Tony Pollard trying to find big plays on the ground, and Dak Prescott being clutch when it matters most. The defense will have favorable matchups starting with this Sunday against the Rams, a team they held to ten points and just 38 rushing yards last season, before Dallas sees the Giants, Panthers, and Commanders over the next five weeks (with the Eagles squeezed in).
The Cowboys should hardly look at this stretch of games as an invitation for the offense to continue going through growing pains though. Mike McCarthy’s side of the ball having a strong showing off the bye is critical. They are going up against a Rams team that ranks 14th in scoring defense fresh off a game they allowed Kenny Pickett to hit a season high 68% completion percentage and drive 80 yards in ten plays to set up the game-winning touchdown. Aaron Donald is still a recognizable star in the Rams defense with game-wrecking potential, but as a unit led by coordinator Raheem Morris they’re a shell of their past championship form.
The Cowboys have struggled to get their offensive line to the second level to create space on the ground, but if this becomes an area of improvement off the bye, they can take advantage of a Rams defense that’s best in the trenches. In the last meeting between these teams in 2022 at SoFi Stadium, it was the combination of the Cowboys run game supporting Cooper Rush in his fourth straight start and their own run defense that earned Dallas a 22-10 win.
DeMarcus Lawrence gave the Cowboys the lead in the first quarter with a fumble return for a touchdown off a Dorance Armstrong sack, but still in the first half they’d have to respond when the Rams took the lead on a 75-yard Cooper Kupp touchdown. They did so emphatically on the next drive with a 57-yard Tony Pollard touchdown, his longest rushing score of the season. This, and two Brett Maher field goals, would be all the Cowboys needed, making Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay’s offense one-dimensional while keeping throws to Kupp and Tyler Higbee in front of them. Outside of the long score, Kupp caught six more passes for 50 yards while Higbee had seven for 46. The Cowboys thrived in the same dime looks and sub packages that got them a win at SoFi in week six against the Chargers, adapting to not having linebacker Leighton Vander Esch by freeing up Markquese Bell and Damone Clark to make plays.
The Cowboys seemed relatively unfazed by the media-hyped talking point of playing against former OC Kellen Moore in the Chargers game, and how that backdrop would add pressure on McCarthy to show improvement in his first year calling plays. In perhaps even more of a stretch, this game versus the Rams presents a similar dynamic, as Sean McVay was once the envy of offensive coaches everywhere for being at the forefront of play-calling and creativity. Some of this shine has worn off as McVay competes in his own division with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, and across the conference in the AFC with Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins, but the Cowboys have passed on adding a coach with similar characteristics for more in-house promotions.
McCarthy is, of course, calling plays not against McVay, but Mostert’s aggressive defense. He will need a steady balance of an efficient run game with an emphasis on getting the ball out of Prescott’s hands versus the blitz to match any scoring that Stafford, McVay, and Kupp put up against the Dallas defense. Even with Kupp back in the lineup, it was breakout sensation Puka Nacua leading the Rams in targets, receptions, and yards versus the Steelers. The Cowboys had Trevon Diggs for their last meeting with the Rams, and saw Malik Hooker come away with an interception, but they are still working through the makeup of the secondary without Diggs at both cornerback and safety. This game will be a test of their ability to handle multiple possession receivers with speed, as well as handling pre-snap motion.
In the NFL, they don’t often ask how you won a game. The Cowboys can do nothing about their 42-10 loss to the 49ers for the remainder of the regular season, and simply need to get back on track stacking wins against the L.A. franchises before looking ahead to future matchups with the Eagles, Giants, and Commanders to decide the NFC East.
The Rams four losses this season have come by a combined 26 points, and are perceived by many as a better team than the 3-4 record would indicate. It seems like possibilities are endless for how they’ll fare against a Cowboys team off a needed bye week, with these teams alternating wins and losses in their last three and the all-time series only giving a slight edge to Dallas at 19-18. The Cowboys have already dropped two games to the NFC West, against a Cardinals team the Rams beat 26-9, and a 49ers team that beat the Rams by one score, making this a week they need to turn this fortune around and vie for a split against this tough division in week 13 versus the Seahawks.