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Rams-Cowboys: Jordan Fuller, Brandon Staley help LA start 1-0 at SoFi Stadium

Jared Goff was effective enough on offense but the defense was helped tremendously by a sixth round rookie

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

LA Rams rookie Jordan Fuller had a key fourth down against the Cowboys on Sunday night and Los Angeles beat Dallas 20-17 to open their 2020 season and stay at SoFi Stadium with a 1-0 record. With Malcolm Brown turning out to be the lead running back in the Rams backfield this week, he finished with 18 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown, plus three catches for another 31 yards.

One thing you’ll soon learn about me is that I’ll pile up mistakes like the ones left by aliens at Stonehenge (massive and unforgivable) and my offseason evaluation of how much Sean McVay would use Brown is an unmovable object of ineptitude on my hill. With Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers active this week, I would have expected Brown to get no more than an equal share, but instead he was the main attraction.

This was the first time he had more than 15 attempts in a game and Brown’s previous career-high was 65 yards on 13 carries against the San Francisco 49ers in 2018.

Jared Goff looked to be in total control in the first quarter, when he completed 9-of-11 passes for 105 yards. He continued to find big gains in the passing game and other than an intentional grounding penalty, mostly avoided major mistakes until throwing an interception to Chidobe Awuzie with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter and the Rams leading 20-14.

Goff finished 20-of-31 for 275 yards with no touchdowns, getting sacked one time. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth spent much of the game praising the play of LA’s offensive line after they had suffered through injuries and poor performances for much of last season.

Robert Woods led all receivers with 105 yards on six catches. Cooper Kupp finished with four catches for 40 yards a day after signing a three-year contract extension. He was matched by Tyler Higbee, who also had 40 yards.

Rookie Van Jefferson made his NFL debut with a highlight 31-yard reception but he failed to connect with Goff on his two other targets.

But the true star of the game for the Rams was probably not any player on offense or defense, but 37-year-old defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Facing off against a Cowboys offense that was first in yards, sixth in points and second in DVOA last season, Staley’s debut as a DC resulted in 17 points allowed and stopping Dallas on 9-of-12 third down and 2-of-3 fourth down attempts.

LA allowed 244 yards to a defense projected to be among the league’s elite, and that’s fewer than in any Rams game last season under Wade Phillips.

The Rams held Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to 25-of-39 passing for 266 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Ezekiel Elliott finished with 96 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown both on the ground and through the air. And for those curious how the three receivers would shake out for Dallas, Amari Cooper caught 10-of-14 targets but only gained 81 yards while often facing off against Jalen Ramsey.

Rookie CeeDee Lamb had five catches for 59 yards and Michael Gallup had thee catches for 50 yards, but also an offensive pass interference penalty on Ramsey that essentially ended the game for the Cowboys.

Aaron Donald had a sack at the start of the game but didn’t have his name called out many times after that. It doesn’t mean he played poorly or anything — the Rams held the Cowboys to 17 points and the whole defense revolves around Donald — that’s just what’s on the stats sheet and sacks are often what people track. The run defense seemed fine considering.

The player who deserved the most attention on Sunday night was rookie safety Jordan Fuller, who had been called out all during training camp by Donald and LA’s coaches. Not only did Fuller get plenty of snaps on defense, he led all Rams in tackles with eight. That included his fourth down stop in the fourth quarter on Lamb, holding him to two yards when he needed three.

Another yard would have given the Cowboys first-and-goal at the LA8. There was over 11 minutes on the clock and time for a lot to change, but it turned out that Fuller’s stop was Dallas’s last best opportunity and rather than kick the field goal, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy took the gamble.

Tonight went in the Rams favor. And they played well enough to deserve it.