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Los Angeles Rams At Dallas Cowboys: 2nd Down, Second Guessing

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It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Overview

The Los Angeles Rams were able to pull off a HUGE road win against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The Rams proved not only to be a legitimate football team worthy of respect throughout the league, but have to be considered contenders, not pretenders for the playoffs.

It’s hard to be critical of the Rams with a win like this coming off the 4-12 2016 season, but the Rams must remain focused on the outcome in 2017.

If the goal this year is just to come away with a winning record and perhaps make the playoffs, then there’s nothing to learn from the win. However, the goal should be for this team to win the Super Bowl. Win next February, and there’s no need to even have a 2nd Down, Second Guessing take.

Short of that, there’s a lot of football left to be played.

Those that forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Last year, Rams fans remember when the team started 3-1, just as they are this year. We all know how that turned out. Yet, this team is vastly different.

So, keeping in mind the ultimate goal, having come to the quarter pole, the next 12 games will be about not about how you started, but how you finished.

Red Zone Offense Was Pathetic

The Rams kicked seven field goals in their game against the Cowboys. They had plenty of chances to blow the Cowboys out and surely being up by nine points with two minutes to go in the game is lot safer than being up by only five.

There are reasons why teams are forced to kick a lot in a game rather than scoring touchdowns. It comes down to two things: 1) playcalling and 2) execution.

When the football field gets smaller and smaller, the defense becomes compacted—it’s a lot harder to move the football.

If your 1st down just outside the 10-yard line, the goal should be to pick up the 1st down first. From there your team should be able to punch the ball in.

If you have a 1st down just inside the ten between the 5 and 9, the goalline is tough to get to, but you have wide opens options to either run or pass.

In either case, playcalling in the red zone needs to be creative.

Yet, even if when a coach makes a bad playcall (like trying to run a sweep with Todd Gurley and losing 2 yards...), players still need to execute the play.

For as much praise as Rams Head Coach Sean McVay deserves at this point for getting the Rams turned around, his playcalling against the Cowboys in the red zone when the Rams had an opportunities to score touchdowns rather kicking field goals and to put the game away were wasted opportunities. Short of the TD, that’s a win for the defense.

The key is FOCUS.

Players must focus on the goal of scoring the touchdown by executing the plays called. The offense must make the blocks to spring the running back. The QB has to make good reads and throws, even if means throwing it out of bounds when needed. The wide receivers have to catch the ball when they get their hands on it.

EXECUTE.

Young teams such as the Rams tend to lose their focus at these critical moments.

Thus, there’s nothing wrong with taking a timeout at this juncture to make sure everyone is set for the road ahead to put the ball in the end zone. As you gain more experience, this will become unnecessary. Penalties at that portion of the field will kill you, as will dropped touchdown passes, bad reads or bad run blocking which must be made at the point of contact.

Additionally, when your defense gets you a turnover on the opponents other side of the 50, you must convert those mistakes into touchdowns, because there’s nothing worse to the psyche of the opposition then having their own mistakes cost them more then three points.

If you march down the field from your own 20-yard line, your team should be capable of doing the right thing down in the red zone. Logically, how else did you get that far down the field without focus and execution, other then penalties?

As hard as it is to be critical of the Rams who scored 35 points against the Cowboys, the bottom line is that it should have been more. But if you want to settle for having a good team this year, possibly making the playoffs and are will be happy with that outcome for the 2017, settling for three points so often and wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys is okay.

On the other hand, a Super Bowl win is what every team strives for.

Winning one game against the Cowboys at this point in the season is good for the fan base and the franchise, but remember if a championship is the prize it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

Get better every week. Learn from your mistakes even when you win.

Concerns About the Defense

Once again, the failure to stop the running game, at least in the first half, was a problem for the Rams. It got corrected in the second half, but the Rams defense has only played a complete game since the opener against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are a complete mess offensively without QB Andrew Luck, so it doesn’t take much for a defense to have a good game against them.

On the other hand, the Cowboys’ offense, at least on paper and from the media perception created by Owner Jerry Jones, are a force to be reckoned with. The reality is the “same old sorry ass Rams” exposed to the rest of the league that the Cowboys’ all-world offense was all hype.

The offensive line of the Cowboys is not the best in the league. WR Dez Bryant is overrated, and if you contain RB Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ run game, the likelihood of QB Dak Prescott beating you with his arm diminishes significantly.

“You are what your record is.” The Cowboys are 2-2. If the Cowboys offense continues to struggle, at the 12-game point in the season, the Rams defense holding “Them Boys” to just six points in the second half may not be that impressive.

But again, the defense needs to get better. It starts by playing a good first half, combined with a great second half.

Game Balls

The Rams rightfully awarded game balls to both K Greg Zuerlein and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips but could have easily included WR Tavon Austin.

Tavon played well for a change. He came into the game as a player under enormous pressure to do something—anything. He by no means had a 31-million dollar game, but when he got touches this week, he made the most of it.

By having the kind of game he did, he presents options that opposing defenses have to account for when facing the Rams offense in the future. These options will open up the plays for others to step up as defenses focus on sets which they think are designed for Austin to get the ball in.

He wasn’t great against the Cowboys, but he was effective.

Congrats to the Rams for a huge win.