Here we go, ladies and gentleman.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally closing in as the Los Angeles Rams will once again play a playoff game on Saturday night versus the Dallas Cowboys. Clinching a first-round playoff bye week as the second seed in the NFC, the Rams have already advanced further than they did in the playoffs last year.
This is going to be an inter-conference matchup between two teams that don’t have a ton of familiarity with each other, with the last contest between the two teams coming in week four of the 2017 season.
Let’s jump into the matchups to watch:
CB Nickell Robey-Coleman vs WR Cole Beasley
Ironically enough, both of these players are the most dependable in respect to their teams’ position groups. Nickell Robey-Coleman has proven to be the Rams’ most consistent corner as he routinely places himself in good positions to make plays with good coverage and pass breakups. Luckily for the Rams, he’ll cover the Cowboys’ third down weapon in Cole Beasley who finished 2018 with 65 receptions for 672 yards receiving and three touchdowns. It’s clear QB Dak Prescott values and targets Beasley in most clutch/third down situations, so it’ll be key for NRC to lock up Beasley and force Prescott elsewhere on key down-and-distances. One thing to note is that Beasley hasn’t practiced this week due to an ankle injury, though I’d expect him to play as he’s simply too important to the offense.
WR Robert Woods vs CB Chidobe Awuzie
It simply doesn’t get more reliable than Robert Woods, which is why he’ll be a key on Saturday night. Woods had over 61 yards receiving in 14 games this season, ensuring that he’ll remain involved in every gameplan the Rams devise. This week he’s likely to draw a lot of Chidobe Awuzie in coverage as the Cowboys like to have CB Byron Jones cover #1 receivers (which Woods could be considered), though I anticipate a Jones versus Brandin Cooks matchup. Awuzie is a solid corner who’s capable of making many plays in a game, though he can certainly be beat and tends to become quite grabby. I expect the strengths in Woods’ game to help expose Awuzie a bit.
DT Aaron Donald vs OG’s Connor Williams/Xavier Su’a-Filo
Oh. Yes. At this point, I no longer have any words to describe how dominant Aaron Donald is. And even with that being the case, one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen from a player was Donald in last year’s playoff game versus the Atlanta Falcons. Donald lived in the backfield in that game, affecting nearly every play of the first half. This week, he’ll have two ends of the spectrum to oppose. One side is the LG position manned by either rookie Connor Williams or veteran Xavier Su’a-Filo, neither of which are good. The other is RG Zach Martin who is the Aaron Donald of offensive lineman. I’m sure Donald will be moved around and get a fair share of both sides, though it’s an incredibly appealing matchup to let 99 wreck the game against two bad left guards.
RT Rob Havenstein vs DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Rob Havenstein is one of the best tackles in the league, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best defensive ends in the league. I envision both guys winning plenty of reps, though QB Jared Goff will need to be well aware of where #90 is lined up as Lawrence has a fantastic pass-rushing prowess that produces a lot of sacks.
QB Jared Goff vs MLB Jaylon Smith
After a rough stretch from weeks 14 and 15, Jared Goff bounced back nicely in the final two games of the regular season. Now, Goff has a chance to make his mark as one of the truly “elite quarterbacks” in the league if he can perform to his best ability on Saturday night. That won’t be an easy task as the Cowboys have a terrific defense with a star player on all three levels of their defense, with Jaylon Smith being that guy on the second level. Smith is the leader of that defense, and the mind games between Goff and Smith are going to be very interesting to watch. As an ascending player with unprecedented closing speed, the Rams would be wise to use Smith’s aggression and speed against him.
Rams’ front-seven vs RB Ezekiel Elliott
Obviously this is a matchup the entirety of the Cowboys fans and franchise will feel good about, but it’s time for the Rams’ front-seven to step up and earn their way to the next round. I’m not saying they need to completely shut down Ezekiel Elliott — partly because that’s nearly impossible to do — but they need to limit his gains and ensure he never has a chance to break contain and rip off a huge run. This would be a fantastic week for NT Ndamukong Suh and DT Michael Brockers to wreak havoc, along their superstar talent in Aaron Donald. OLB’s Dante Fowler Jr and Samson Ebukam need to remain sound in containing the edge, as the latter has struggled badly with doing so this year.