The Rams and Cowboys are enduring a tough week in which both teams are forced to rest some of their star players due to bangs and bruises. Both teams need to be sharp this week as the keys to this game are largely based in minimizing the errors that have plagued them both. So which match-ups and strategies are most important this Sunday?
Minimizing pass defense mistakes
No matter how you slice it up, this is a winnable game for the Rams. It's a game that just about everyone on the outside should consider a toss up. Dallas has more proven talent, but also more proven problems. St. Louis has unproven talent with lots of potential, but has also been prone to mistakes.
There's a good chance this game could come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes and takes away big plays. While Tony Romo is known for chucking some balls into the secondary that would make Tony Banks blush, he is also a cerebral player that can take advantage of a unit that gives things away.
If the Rams secondary continues to give a 10-yard cushion to receivers, they has to shut down big plays. The idea of the cushion is to keep everything in front and put a lid on the defense. Unfortunately, that plan is thrown out the window every time a big play occurs. So far, it has been disastrous for the Rams. The game-plan has been blown up, and allowed the Rams defense to rank in the bottom 5 of just about every pass defense category in the NFL. The Rams will either have to abandon this philosophy, or allow no mistakes in coverage because Tony Romo was designed to beat this kind of pass defense.
All scheme-based critiques aside, Jeff Fisher and Tim Walton cannot be thrilled by the idea of a league-worst pass defense. As a former defensive back and defensive backs coach, it has to eat both of them up inside every time a pass is completed for a first down. The Rams are allowing the league's worst third down conversion rate at the moment, and have rarely forced a three-and-out through two games. You have to assume major construction is being done on this unit as we speak.
All of the DB's the Rams have on the roster are talented, so the immediate concern is not the ability of the players (although Cortland appears to be slipping). The Rams will have to make major adjustments this week and improve their technique to come out strong against this great receiving unit in Dallas.
Our very own RamFan1313 goes into further detail about the Rams pass defense here.
Rams Must Run the Ball
Sure, running the ball isn't cool anymore. In fact, in the first week of the season no running back exceeded 100 rushing yards in a game. However, running the ball isn't dead (see Kansas City - Philadelphia last night). The Rams need to be Ryan Van Bibber-hipsters in regards to the run. They need to run the ball ironically, without care of what the rest of the NFL thinks.
Dallas has a weakness defending the run, and this is a match-up that can put the Rams over the top offensively. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead both have the ability to tear this defense for 10-15 yards at a time. That can be devastating and can help contribute to long drives for the offense. It's imperative for the Rams to not get behind so they can run the ball and control the clock.
The Rams have shown flashes of creativity in the run game, busting out the pistol formation once or twice during the week. If the team can continue to manufacture a running game this way it will open up the play-action passing game which has been relatively non-threatening this year for the Rams. The lack of a threatening play-action pass is one reason why you don't see Sam Bradford connecting with Chris Givens for long bombs down the field. It's imperative for the Rams vertical passing game to have a solid running game. This game against the Cowboys is a great chance to get that going again.
Ultimately, a game comes down to more than just two facets. However, these two elements are keys to the Rams controlling the game. In week 1 the Rams rallied and were lucky enough to come back. If the Rams continue to lose control, more than often they won't get lucky. Fans hope this will be the week that the Rams finally take control.