It’s one down, three to go for the Dallas Cowboys! After beating the Seattle Seahawks last week, and thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles beating the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys are now headed to LA to face the Rams in a matchup between two teams who have largely been on different paths in the last few weeks. It’s Know Your Opponent: Cowboys vs Rams!
That was last week and this is this week!
Let’s talk about the game.
The Rams ended their season with two losses – at the Bears and at home vs. the Eagles – and two wins, at the Cardinals and at home against the 49ers. More importantly than the results, though, the Rams have looked largely unimpressive through the final weeks of the season.
Jared Goff has been rightfully outed as a middling quarterback who sits among a wealth of offensive weapons, as he is puppeted by a genius of a playcaller in head coach Sean McVay. And Goff can have success in this setup, and I’m sure that McVay has no interest in asking Goff to do much more than be a willing marionette. But as Todd Gurley got banged up throughout the season, the Rams lost a bit of their potency.
When defenses – especially the good ones, like the Cowboys – can spend less time worrying about Gurley and more time on preying on the weaknesses of Jared Goff, the Rams get a little less bulletproof. And the Cowboys defense, seemingly every week, is up to this exact kind of challenge.
Dak Prescott has had a less-impressive statistical season than Jared Goff, but – even as I would keep Dak out of any conversation about the league’s top-shelf quarterbacks – he’s also used the weapons around him very well, especially since the addition of Amari Cooper. But, as always, the crown jewel of the Cowboys offense: Ezekiel Elliott.
Both teams in this matchup will be attempting to convince the opposing defenses that they can run the ball at will on them. And, for the most part, I think they can both run successfully, with one of the league’s’ best in each backfield. But the question for the Cowboys defense will be “who do they make us stop?”
In the year’s most exciting high-fire-power game, the Rams beat the Chiefs while largely using Gurley as a sort of decoy, while trouncing the Chiefs’ defense through the air. For the Cowboys, a similar game plan wouldn’t surprise me. Gurley will rightfully demand attention from any defense, and if he gets it, it would be wise for the Rams to look for the matchups that are created elsewhere.
For the Cowboys offensively – good luck with Aaron Donald. The surefire defensive player of the year is a game-wrecker from the middle of the defensive line. Every time Dak drops back, he’ll need to know exactly where Donald is. And, in many cases, he’ll be in Prescott’s face before he even has a chance to look for him.
The key will be simply moving away from Aaron Donald. There’s no stopping him, so look for designed roll-outs to keep Dak clean for as many of those passing attempts as possible.
Similarly to last week against the Seahawks, the only thing I’d bet on here is a close game. These two teams with offenses that can score, quarterbacks that have their moments and also their limitations, star running backs and elite defenders. Lots of similarities. Whoever advances will deserve their shot at the NFC next weekend.
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I’m Joshua Brisco and this has been Know Your Opponent, only on FANTOM.