Coming into the game, the Los Angeles Rams are in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. They face a daunting task in week four having to go on the road to play in JerryWorld against the preseason prohibited favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII, the Dallas Cowboys.
This is THE game on the Rams’ schedule. Should the Rams be able to pull out a win, they immediately become legitimate contenders. If the Rams merely play well, keep the score close but still wind up losing, it will be hard to imagine them holding up the George Halas trophy, but arguably they could still be considered legitimate playoff contenders. Play poorly, lose big, and the Rams are pretenders, not contenders
That’s why this game will tell us more about the Rams than it will about the Cowboys.
Last week for example, the Atlanta Falcons, a Super Bowl participant last year and undefeated after two games, played the Detroit Lions who were also undefeated. That game was more about the Lions, then it was Atlanta. The Lions lost on a rather kooky rule, but they played well enough against the Falcons to make a reasonable argument they’re contenders, not pretenders.
Last year, the Rams were 3-1 after four games. Many Rams fans started thinking that maybe the team was turning the corner, but then they lost a home game against the Buffalo Bills beginning a rapid decline into last place by winning only one of their remaining eleven games.
If the 2017 Rams can somehow find a way to get by the Cowboys or even make it close, then the toughest part of schedule coming up in the next four games become winnable games rather than foreseeable losses.
Here’s how the Rams do it.
The Defense Takes A Page Out Of How To Beat The Rams From Last Year
In 2016, the way to beat the Rams was stop RB Todd Gurley. Once that was accomplished, opponents took advantage of the Rams’ lack of offensive creativity between QB Case Keenum and an inexperienced QB Jared Goff at the helm. Put that together with WRs who couldn’t catch the ball even when it hit them right in their hands, and the Rams were doomed.
The Rams’ defense must do to the Cowboys what was done to them last year. This appears difficult given the Rams inability to stop the run. Nevertheless, it is imperative the Rams defense finds a way shut down RB Ezekiel Elliott and control the line of scrimmage.
Make QB Dak Prescott beat you.
Prescott was a phenom in 2016 even though he was a fourth-round 2016 NFL Draft pick. He was able accomplish this feat, because he has the best offensive line in football packed with first-round picks. The Dallas O-line opens up huge holes for Zeke. In this offense, Dak found himself for the most part in 2nd or 3rd and short. It’s a lot easier making plays when your offense needs only five yards for a first down rather than being in 2nd or 3rd and long.
This year however, what we’ve seen other teams do against the Cowboys offense is scheme to stop the run with Elliott (as the Denver Broncos did, and for the most part both the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals did) The result is that the 2017 Cowboys aren’t lighting up the scoreboard on offense as they did in 2016—teams have learned that your best chance to beat the Cowboys is to force Prescott to beat you.
Cowboy fans and sports commentators are oblivious to the fact that Dak may not be as great as they argue he is. That’s because these observers of the game have been too quick to crown him the next Tom Brady after one season when the Cowboys were 13-3. The biased commentary is the result of being the most popular team in the NFL; so rather than tell the truth about the Cowboys, commentators lean towards building them up for ratings purposes.
There’s no in between with the Dallas Cowboys. You either love “America’s Team” or you hate them.
What you get with Dak is a big body QB who’s tough to bring down. His strength to shed tacklers in the pocket gives him the ability to buy more time. He’s not a precisely accurate QB in the pocket, but when he escapes the pocket by rolling, (as he did against the Arizona Cardinals) he can make the plays down the field. If not able to do that, Dak will take off running down the field where his size and strength makes him as a dangerous as a RB.
Dak Prescott won the game against the Arizona Cardinals with his roll outs and legs. The Rams have to be aware of this. It was all on display on Monday might.
As a result, the Rams need to keep Dak in the pocket, and for sure if you have a chance for a sack, bring him down. It’s not going to work every time, but don’t ever give up on it. He’s bound to make a few bad throws and reads.
As a pocket passer, Dak threw two interceptions against the Broncos. In the game In Arizona, the Cardinals lost because they didn’t contain the edge allowing Dak to make plays as he rolled out and got caught flat-footed when Dak ran the ball on a designed bootleg as the defense was concentrating on Elliot. The New York Giants didn’t lose because of their defense having held the Cowboys to just 16 points; the Giants lost because they have no offense.
Each of these games had one thing in common...the opponents found a way to stop the run. Thus, the game plan should be for the Rams to stack the line of scrimmage with eight defenders in the box to prevent Elliot from getting going putting the Cowboys in obvious passing situations. When that happens, get a good rush, protect the edge and force Dak beat you with his arm in the pocket. This will give the Rams a chance.
Unfortunately, the reason this appears to be a daunting task is the Rams inability to stop the run in the last two games. It therefore may be asking more too much of defense learning to adjust in the 3-4 defense to do something it’s simply not capable of doing right now.
If Dallas is successful running the ball with Elliott, it’s gonna be a long day for the Rams, because Dak is most dangerous when he is able to freeze the defender with play action passes. Put the Cowboys in must-pass situations. If the Rams don’t stop the run, Rams fans won’t have to wait till the end of the game to control their emotions. They can destroy their TV at the end of the first half.
There is also an individual matchup which all football fans should enjoy watching. It’s between the two best at their respective positions: RG Zack Martin and DT Aaron Donald. This will be an absolute slugfest in the trenches. Absent a critical career-ending injury, these two are destined for the Hall of Fame. Whoever wins that battle might just decide which of these two teams wins the war.
For the Rams to win, Donald has to win this battle. If he doesn’t, the Rams are going to get run over since expecting undersized ILBs Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron to stuff the run without an effective Donald is just asking too much. When two great players are pitted against one another, someone has to lose.
Aaron Donald is not merely a great player, he’s the best the NFL has ever seen at this position. He needs to play like it on Sunday.
The Rams Offense Must Take Advantage of Dallas’ Weakness
While the Dallas Cowboys were using their draft picks to stock and build their offense at the O-line, Owner/President/General Manager/Hall of Famer Jerry Jones neglected his defense.
A truly great QB like Aaron Rodgers can and did beat the Cowboys with just his arm, because the Dallas Cowboys secondary doesn’t scare anybody (just ask Broncos QB Trevor Siemian).
This doesn’t mean that the Cowboys don’t have the players to play. That’s not the issue.
The issue is an old school, Cover 2 scheme Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli employs. There’s not much imagination to it. The Dallas defense has been in the standard Cover 2 since Marinelli arrived at Big D: no exotic blitzes, etc.
Take into account the Cowboys have nowhere near the personnel Marinelli had at Tampa Bay. The Dallas defense is mediocre at best.
In 2016 when the Cowboys were scoring 27-35 points a game, controlling the line of scrimmage with their offensive line and keeping their opponents offense off the field, that’s the gameplan which won them 13 games. In those games, the defense only needed to get a few three and outs to win the game which is a lot easier to do when your team has to pass to get back in it and the clock is your biggest enemy.
In the divisional round of the playoffs last year, even TE Jared Cook (who couldn’t catch a cold with Rams) made a huge play setting up the Green Bay Packers for the game-winning field goal. The best part of this Rams fan’s season was watching the Cowboys be “one and done.” The 2016, the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys might as well have been the 4-12 Rams, cause after one week in the postseason, they too found themselves sitting in front of the TV watching the rest of the playoffs.
Thus, in this game the Rams’ offense is the X-factor.
Can the Rams run the ball with Gurley? Will Goff play well? Will the right side of the O-line control the pass rush which the Arizona Cardinals were unable to do?
If you’re a Rams fan, the positive answer to these questions can only lead to only one possible response: “Yes! Yes We Can!”
As a former defensive coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999, Rod Marinelli has seen this two-headed monster before. His gameplan will be to stop Gurley and force Goff to make the plays. It’s the same game plan he utilized to hold RB Marshall Faulk and QB Kurt Warner in check in the 1999 NFC Championship game which the Rams won.
The Cowboys’ plan is predicated on QB Jared Goff being the same 2016 QB they’ve seen on tape from last year, but he doesn’t even remotely resemble that QB in 2017. The difference between the Jared Goff of 2016 and 2017 is Head Coach Sean McVay.
McVay can scheme plays to beat the Dallas defense, even if Dallas can is able stop Gurley or put pressure on Goff. These schemes are designed to put players in a position to make plays. Thus, it’s up to Goff to get the ball to WR Sammy Watkins, WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp, TE Gerald Everett and Gurley so they can make those plays happen.
These 2017 Rams receivers do something the 2016 Rams couldn’t do—catch the ball. Throw in an occasional play made by WR Tavon Austin, and the Rams do have the weapons on offense to score and score often against Marinelli’s defense.
If Gurley is able to put yardage on the ground, chewing up the clock and thus keeping the Dallas offense off the field and the Rams score TDs in the red zone, (rather than being 1 for 4 as the Cardinals were) the Rams will put points against the Cowboys.
Keep this in mind also: The Rams have had 10 days to prepare both their offensive and defensive game plans for this game. The Rams were clearly watching Monday night and know what to expect from Dallas. On the other hand, the Cowboys have had only six days to prepare for this Rams team, who aren’t your same old sorry ass Rams.
Given last week’s deplorable performance by the Rams ST, there’s no advantage to either team. If the game is on the line, each side is capable of making the game-winning field goal.
There is an edge however decidedly in favor of the Rams in the punt game with P Johnny Hekker; yet, if the Rams are dependent on Johnny’s leg, to the extent he’s able to force the Cowboys to start their offense deep in their own territory, then that means the Rams offense isn’t getting the job done. That spells trouble.
So there it is. The game plan to bring back championship football back to Los Angeles.
It’s time for the Rams to rise to the occasion and get over the hump. It starts by beating, those annoying, overrated, dreadful, shameless, cursed Dallas Cowboys—ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!