The Los Angeles Rams will be looking to bounce back against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Week 5. Coming off of a short week, it won’t be easy facing a team that has very similar strengths as the San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams will be getting the Cowboys without Dak Prescott while the Rams continue to shuffle and deal with injuries on the offensive line. It will be crucial for the Rams to get a win and get back above .500. Here are five things that the Rams need to do to beat the Cowboys.
1. Attack the edges in the run game
Is this the game that the Rams run game finally gets going? The Rams run offense currently ranks 19th in DVOA according to Football Outsiders and 23rd in EPA per play. They’re averaging just 3.3 yards per carry which ranks 29th in the NFL. There have been flashes, but they’ve been very inconsistent.
On Sunday, they’re going up against a Cowboys defense that’s giving up quite a bit of room on the ground. While Dallas isn’t giving up consistent five to seven yard carries per rush, they have given up the most explosive runs this season.
Leonard Fournette had 21 carries for 127 yards in Week 1. Joe Mixon was held in check in Week 2, but Saquon Barkley averaged 5.8 yards per carry in Week 3. Last week, Antonio Gibson didn’t find a lot of room, but Jonathan Williams had five carries for 48 yards which included a 23-yard run.
While the Cowboys have given up the most explosive runs, the Rams only have seven explosive runs this season which ranks among the lowest in the league. Something has to break here.
Cam Akers is averaging a full yard less per carry that Darrell Henderson. This needs to be a Henderson game. The Cowboys can be exploited on the edges. Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr aren’t the sideline-to-sideline linebackers that they used to be. Henderson has excelled on outside runs and tosses this season.
It wasn't all good on Sunday as the Cowboys run defense showed its vulnerabilities as Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, and Jonathan Williams all had at least 40 yards rushing.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2022
Washington did a great job blocking in the second level, forcing Leighton Vander Esch to chase them down. pic.twitter.com/XNMyFRkYkN
Henderson’s biggest runs have come when running outside the tackles, specifically to the left side. Meanwhile, the Cowboys rank 30th in DVOA against the run on plays ran outside to the left and 26th on run plays ran towards the right tackle. If the Rams can execute an outside zone run game, they should find space. The key is that they must force Vander Esch to chase them. Looking at Week 1, all of Fournette’s big runs came in that direction.
Along with Henderson, McVay will need to incorporate the jets sweep. In Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals, Cooper Kupp scored on a jet sweep out of the Ben Skowronek I-formation. They’ll need to use some of that on Sunday to get the Cowboys linebackers moving side-to-side.
While the Cowboys are similar to the San Francisco 49ers in some ways, they don’t have a Fred Warner in the middle of their defense. The Rams need to attack the edges to get the big runs.
2. Take Away the Middle of the Field
After losing to Jimmy Garoppolo on Monday night, the Rams are getting another version of Garoppolo in Cooper Rush on Sunday. He’s very smart and a quick processor. Rush may not have the arm strength to push the ball down the field consistently into tight windows, but he has the accuracy and anticipation to make up for it.
Rush is arguably a better version of Garoppolo as he’s not going to make the bad decision that kills his team. The Cowboys quarterback is very good at playing mistake-free football. As a game-manager, he plays the part and rarely does his own thing outside of the system. Rush is a 4-0 in his career as a start and has thrown just one career interception - he’s thrown zero this season.
It’s going to be key for the Rams to get pressure on Rush and make him go outside the numbers. The Rams need to get to him with four rushers as he’s number two this season against the blitz in EPA. He is a quarterback that will pick you apart with his first read if he’s able. He’s accurate enough to make all of the throws, but he’s much better and more comfortable in the short-intermediate areas of the field and inside the numbers.
3. Disrupt the Cowboys Pass Rush
McVay may need to take some things out of the 2017-2020 Rams playbook to win this game. The Cowboys lead the NFL in pressure rate as Micah Parsons is having a Defensive Player of the Year caliber performance this season.
Much like the 49ers, the Cowboys are getting to the quarterback with four as they pressure with five or more just 21 percent of the time. When playing Cover 2, the Cowboys are essentially number one in the league in generating pressure. They’ll typically disguise a Cover 2 look by showing man coverage.
Dan Quinn's evolution has been to fun to watch. He has some tricky ways to disguise c2. Shows cover 0 here but ends up being tampa-2. Mugged front got offense to keep RB in pro & they still got a free runner on a stunt.— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) October 6, 2022
Wentz was able to escape & hit the honey hole though. pic.twitter.com/Gw9kFORRHM
Dan Quinn has done a great job disguising stunts and twists to get to the quarterback. With center Jeremiah Kolone likely to start, Quinn will attack that even more to exploit Kolone’s inexperience. The pressure that Dallas has been able to dial up is a big reason for their continued defensive success despite lower turnover numbers than last season.
The Rams are going to need to play a smoke and mirrors type of offense with misdirection to keep the Cowboys on their heels. The Rams need to utilize the tight end screen which has been a successful piece of their offense this season. As mentioned, McVay must get the linebackers moving side-to-side, using wide receiver screens. Utilizing Kupp out of the backfield can accomplish this as well.
McVay is calling play-action at a much higher rate this year than he did last year. Whether it’s pre-snap motion, play-action, jet-sweeps, etc. it’s crucial that the Rams offense keeps the Cowboys defense guessing.
4. Find a Second Option in the Passing Game
I mentioned it last week in my keys to the game that the Rams need someone like Allen Robinson to step up. The offensive line hasn’t helped as Robinson’s depth of target leads team. With longer developing routes, Stafford isn’t going to get the chance to go to him as often.
This is a game where the Rams are again going to miss Van Jefferson. The Cowboys play a lot of Cover 1 man coverage and Cover 2. While Kupp is excellent against man coverage, Robinson isn’t beating it this year.
We've charted Allen Robinson with a 20% route success rate (i.e. getting open) against man single coverage so far in 2022. His average since 2019 is 31%. League average among wide receivers is 30%.— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) October 4, 2022
The insane 36 percent target share to Kupp isn’t as much a Stafford issue as it is a Robinson and offensive line issue. Whether it’s Ben Skowronek, Higbee, or even Brandon Powell, the Rams need to find another consistent option in the passing game.
Kupp will get his opportunities. Jourdan Lewis who plays in the slot for the Cowboys is allowing the ninth-most yards after the catch this season.
5. Capitalize in the Red Zone
Last week we saw the Rams go 0-for-3 in the red zone and it ended up being a big difference in the game. They go 2-for-3 or even 1-for-3 and it’s a different game in the fourth quarter.
Much like the 49ers, the Cowboys defense is really good inside the 20. Both the Cowboys and 49ers are allowing a touchdown in the red zone on just 42.86 percent of possession. That’s good for the fifth-best in the NFL.
The Cowboys haven’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this season which is in large part because of their success in the red zone. The Rams offense meanwhile ranks 26th in the red zone at a 46.15 percent touchdown rate.
Dallas is a team that excels in a defensive game in which the score is close throughout. The Cowboys haven’t trailed by more than seven points since Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were down 13-6 to the New York Giants in Week 3, but answered immediately to tie the game.
If the Rams can turn this into a drop-back passing game for Rush and the Cowboys offense, they’ll be able to exploit some of the shuffling that Dallas has done on the offensive line.
Getting six points instead of three in the red zone will be important for the Rams offense on Sunday.