Today, the Dallas Cowboys welcome the Rams to the house that Jerry built. In the latest incarnation of a series dating back to 1960, both these teams are currently 1-1 in the win/loss column, and are hoping to head into Week #4 with some momentum. St. Louis faces San Francisco at the Edward Jones Dome next week, while Dallas heads to San Diego. Both these NFL franchises are looking for answers to nagging questions on offense and defense.
The Rams are searching for a running game, and this may very well be the game they find it. Dallas' defensive tackles are going to be under the spotlight, as Daryl Richardson tries to find his second year way. Injuries along the St. Louis offensive line will challenge this unit, and Sam Bradford is hoping his streak of games where he hasn't been sacked will hit three in a row. But there's a guy named DeMarcus Ware who may have other ideas, so it will be up to Jake Long to shut down the future Hall of Fame defensive end.
When it comes down to it, this game will be the Sam Bradford - Tony Romo show. The Rams' quarterback is on the verge of being taken seriously by the media, with a #6 rating among all NFL signal callers. Romo is battling sore ribs, which could prove key as he faces one of the best defensive front four-s in the league. They aren't afraid to smack a quarterback around, so Romo's back up Kyle Orton needs to be ready to step in.
For the Rams, their secondary has been called into question after two games, where they gave up yardage in huge chunks. Cortland Finnegan needs to return to form, and Janoris Jenkins has to stop hoping for help over the top and stay with elite wide receivers. He'll be facing Dez Bryant or Miles Austin today, and both can light him up if shows the slightest mental titch.
The Cowboys are favored by 3-1/2 points, and the over/under is 47 points. Hmm? OK, it's time for one of my more bizarre final score prognostications. First, I don't think Romo lasts the entire game. Pain injections got him through most of the Kansas City game, but Chris Long and Robert Quinn aren't going to let him breathe. I think Jeff Fisher is going to let his defense off their leash today. He's going to tell his inexperienced safeties their training wheels are off, and position his corner backs closer to the line to eliminate the 8 to 10 yard slants that's been killing them so far this season. Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree will be shadowing Dallas tight end Jason Witten much of the day, and it will be up to James Laurinaitis and Wil Witherspoon to cover running backs flaring out of the back field. In my opinion, this is a game where young Ray Ray Armstrong could prove key. His recent conversion from a college safety to an outside linebacker could be pivotal as Dallas tries to mimic what Atlanta did to the Rams in Week #2, with short passes to counter the pass rush.
Here's the thing: while Rams' fans have been grumbling about wanting Jeff Fisher to turn his team loose, the wily veteran coach has held tight on the reins for a reason. You may be tired of hearing how young this team is, but it's an undeniable truth. Along with learning how to master their talents, Fisher has to manage their mindsets. Throwing these young guys to the wolves is a great way to shred their spirits. But this game presents a problem for Fisher, in that he needs to know what his team can do before facing San Francisco next week. I'm not sure Rams fans know just how seriously Jeff Fisher takes division games? He's held back to this point to allow as much time as possible for his charges to grow, but I think that time is at an end.
Jeff Fisher hinted at something in his press conferences this week. He kept mentioning how physical Dallas plays? This is just my opinion, but the best way to counter a team who relies on brute strength, is to be fast - Damn Fast. Defenses have to attack angles, and offenses have to show multiple looks featuring slash and burn moves. Pick n' jab, pick n' jab, and move-move-move... I don't see much no huddle happening early in the game. This contest will be about personnel packages for the Rams. While I think there's going to be a great battle in the trenches today, this game will be won or lost on the sidelines. Brian Schottenheimer will need to throw open his play book, and hand more "instant reads" to Bradford.
Now for my REALLY wild prediction of the final score. You may have noticed I picked Atlanta to win last week? I called a high scoring game, and that turned out to be true. What I see for this week is another game where the Rams fall behind in the first few minutes of the first quarter. Then something odd happens... The Rams head into half time with a 17-14 lead, then come out in the second half and shut down the Romo-less Cowboys' offense. The final score?
St. Louis Rams 31, Dallas Cowboys 14 - Sam Bradford passes for 360 yards and three TDs, with a QB rating above 100. Plus, at least one Rams receiver will have over 100 receiving yards today. The Rams defense scores on a Kyle Orton "pick-six", and recovers two fumbles... How about that, eh?