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Los Angeles Rams versus Dallas Cowboys: Will stopping RB Ezekiel Elliott matter?

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Sosa delves into the #’s and takes a look at what matters the most for the Rams.

Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A lot of the talk this week for the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys matchup will fare around superstar RB Ezekiel Elliott, and deservedly so. Zeke is a fantastic player, a superstar workhorse running back, and one of the top-3 RB’s in the entire league.

Zeke finished his 2018 campaign with 15 games played, 304 carries, 1,434 yards, 4.7 average, six touchdowns, 77 receptions, 567 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns.

Why am I showing you his stats?

Well, I want to show you just how good of a player he is, and how much it doesn’t matter when it comes to the Rams-Cowboys matchup on Saturday. You might think I’m crazy, but hear me out.

First, the Rams are not a good run defense. They know it, and everyone else does too. They’re ranked 23rd in rushing yards per game allowed at 122.3 yards, and dead last at 32nd in rushing yards per attempt allowed at 5.1 yards-per-carry.

Second, out of the 16 regular season games this year, the Rams have allowed 100+ yards rushing 11/16 times. They’ve allowed 140+ yards rushing 5/16 times. They’ve allowed 190+ yards rushing 3/16 times. Of the games the Rams have allowed 100+ rushing yards, they’ve won 8/11 times. In their two contests versus the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams allowed 273 and 190 yards rushing. They escaped both of those games with a win, sweeping their rival.

My point being is the Rams aren’t good at stuffing the run, and everyone who’s played them this season is well aware. The Cowboys identity on offense is to establish the run, stay ahead of the chains, and then use the short-intermediate passing game which includes a ton of slants and timing routes.

I’m not saying the Rams don’t need to stop the run at all, what I am saying is that Zeke Elliott is a great running back, the Cowboys are a good running team, and the Rams are bad at stopping the run. The focus shouldn’t necessarily be to completely stifle the run to the tune of 50 yards, because they’ve rarely accomplished a feat like that all year. It should be to contain Zeke to minor-average gains, not allowing him to break contain on the edge and rumble for massive gains. It’s a near guarantee that the Cowboys will have an effective rushing attack on Saturday, which the Rams are likely aware of. The reason it might not matter is because even when teams have successful rushing attacks against the Rams, they rarely win. The Rams won 8-of-11 times when allowing 100+ rushing yards. The key to win will be to produce consistent offense, limit big plays defensively, get the Cowboys behind the chains in 2nd and 3rd-and-longs, and most importantly, be successful on both sides of the ball in the redzone. Completely stifling a good rushing attack is simply asking too much, but limiting big gains (both rushing and passing) is still essential to success on defense.

Lastly, the Chicago Bears were ranked 1st in rushing yards per game allowed and 3rd in rushing yards per attempt allowed, and the Baltimore Ravens were ranked 3rd in both of those categories as well. Both teams were just sent packing after losing in their Wild Card games.

Get ready for a long week Rams fans, because this is going to be fun. But remember, games in this league are won by passing the ball and stopping teams from doing so.

(Stats taken from pro football reference and teamrankings).