Following the last three games at SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams hit the road again to take on the Dallas Cowboys who are 6.5-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is trying to make it back to .500 after an indefensible loss to the Steelers to end their homestand.
The Rams have a tough challenge on their hands as they play yet another NFC conference favorite. I spoke with David Halprin from SB Nation’s Cowboys blog Blogging the Boys to size up the opposition ahead of their Week 8 matchup.
Q - Dak Prescott has been the subject of increased scrutiny over the last few seasons. In 2022, Prescott led the NFL in interceptions despite missing five games. This year, he has struggled with just six touchdown passes in six games. What is the reasoning behind Prescott’s issues and how confident are you in him leading the Cowboys to a deep playoff run?
A - The biggest problems for Dak Prescott this year seem to be intertwined with the Cowboys changing offensive scheme. Dallas let offensive coordinator Kellen Moore go in the offseason, promoted Brian Schottenheimer to offensive coordinator, and head coach Mike McCarthy took over calling the plays. It’s been an uneven result so far. The Cowboys at times have had success moving the ball effectively until they hit the redzone. That has been a major source of the problem. The redzone offense has been abysmal. That is one reason Dak’s touchdown totals are so low. The whole offense has been bad in the redzone, and there is plenty of blame for Mike McCarthy’s play-calling.
Prescott has had to adapt to West Coast principles in the new offense, and it’s a work in progress. His offensive line isn’t doing him any favors as he’s been pressured a lot, and has not had a reliable running game. Prescott isn’t the kind of QB who will put a team on his back for a deep playoff run, but if the Cowboys can get the pieces worked out around him, he can help the team get there.
Q - I hope I don’t give you indigestion asking this next question, but let’s talk about Mike McCarthy. He has coached Dallas to back-to-back 12-win seasons yet fell short of an NFC Championship appearance in both years. McCarthy is calling the plays after not retaining Kellen Moore and there have been major offensive inconsistencies. What does McCarthy need to do to improve as a coach and how does he help his team move past their growing pains on offense?
A - That’s really the big question for Dallas. The Cowboys early on in the season were moving the ball and building long drives that usually only paid off in field goals. McCarthy has brought West Coast principles into the offense so there have been a lot of shorter passes going on. That is one area that critics would like to see changed and let Prescott push the ball downfield a little more often. Also the Cowboys have been prone to using the outside of the hashes and avoiding the middle of the field. So when it comes to the passing game, McCarthy probably needs to let Prescott challenge defenses more.
There is also the problem with the running game, which is related to the problems on the offensive line. The Cowboys had a revolving door of injuries on the offensive line in the early part of the year, but now have their starting five back together. But they haven’t had a lot of game situations together to implement the new offense. The hope is now that all five are healthy and getting some continuity in the offense, that will improve the running game. The final piece of the puzzle is some creativity. Pre-snap motion, plays designed to get speed players isolated with the ball in their hands. The Cowboys offense has looked pretty vanilla and could use some of the more unique concepts employed in modern football.
Q - Micah Parsons is the unquestioned leader of a defense that is allowing only 16.7 points per game. However, the Cowboys were blown out of the water in losses to the Cardinals and 49ers. What problems did you see defensively in those two losses and what could LA take away from those games to steal a win on the road?
A - The Cardinals game came just days after Trevon Diggs tore his ACL in practice and the defense just didn’t look ready to play. There was confusion in the secondary at times with guys playing new roles to cover for Diggs’ injury and they just seemed shell-shocked. They also failed to account for the running game of non-running backs. The Cardinals QB and a WR had long runs against the defense that helped blow the game open. They also ran at Parsons and used running backs and pulling tight ends to help block him out of the play.
The 49ers game was a little different, the Cowboys just got blown out in all phases of the game. The Cowboys rely on a brutal pass rush to rattle opposing QBs, but they were unable to get to Brock Purdy and upset his rhythm. He carved up the secondary and slot corner Jourdan Lewis had an awful game. They also couldn’t cover TE George Kittle in the redzone. So based on that game, neutralizing the pass rush and picking on the slot corner or safeties is probably the best recipe for success.
Q - The NFL trade deadline will be on October 31 and there have been plenty of rumors circulating over what Jerry Jones is planning. What are some of the Cowboys’ biggest needs and how active do you see Dallas being at the deadline?
A - This is a question that is being hotly debated right now about where the Cowboys need help and whether they will be active at the trade deadline. Taking the second part of the question first, there have been conflicting reports around the Cowboys activity at the trade deadline. Some say they will be buyers, others say they won’t be active. Even Jerry Jones seems to be talking in circles about the deadline (nothing new there, he’s always talking in circles). One key aspect though is the Cowboys don’t have a lot of firepower in extra draft picks to throw around, so that might curtail any activity.
Of the positions of interest, speaking personally, linebacker or corner make the most sense. The Cowboys have been thin at linebacker all year and now Leighton Vander Esch is out for a while, so they could certainly use a veteran there. Corner is the other position that makes sense with Trevon Diggs out and Jourdan Lewis not performing as well as hoped.
Q - The Cowboys are listed as a 6.5-point favorite with an O/U of 45 at DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you envision this game going and what do the Cowboys need to do to come out of their bye week on a winning note?
A - Since the Cowboys are playing at home I expect a pretty good game from them. In recent years they have been playing well at home and their offense seems to perform better there. The Cowboys need to free Prescott up to challenge the defense more in the passing game, and they should also let him use his legs a little bit more. Their defense is built around pressuring the quarterback, so that is what to expect there. Micah Parsons will move all over the field to find mismatches to rush the passer. If the Cowboys can open up their playbook on offense a bit, and get pressure from their defensive line, that is the winning formula on Sunday.