The Los Angeles Rams will play the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8 of the NFL season. For the second week in a row, the Rams will be playing a team coming off of their bye. The Cowboys are seen as one of the better teams in the NFC by many and will healthier than they’ve been at points to start the year. As always, Dallas is susceptible to an upset and it will be up to the Rams to execute. Here are five keys to victory.
1. Attack the Middle of the Field in the Passing Game
The area where the Rams are going to find the most success against the Cowboys is in the middle of the field. Attacking the spine of the Dallas defense is going to be a focal point in this game. The Cowboys are without Leighton Vander Esch and are at their weakest in the middle of the field. This is where the San Francisco 49ers found the most of their success three weeks ago.
Jourdan Lewis is allowing the second-highest passer-rating from the slot this season as he’s allowed nine receptions on 13 targets and given up two touchdowns. Malik Hooker has also given up a lot of yards at safety. The Rams could be able to find Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua in the middle of the field. They’ll need to take advantage of their opportunities.
2. Win in the Red Zone on Defense
Much like last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, this is going to be a game that’s won or lost in the red zone. The Cowboys haven’t been very good in the red zone this season as they rank 27th in red zone touchdown percentage. Last week, the Rams allowed the Steelers to go 3-for-3 in the red zone. That absolutely cannot happen two weeks in a row.
Pior to last week, the Rams defense ranked inside the top-10 in red zone defense. After a down week, it was likely a focus during practice. Prescott is only completing 55 percent of his passes in the red zone and has four touchdowns to one interceptions inside the 20. If the Rams defense can hold the Cowboys to under 50 percent in the red zone, they’ll be in good shape.
3. Get Off to a Fast Start
The Cowboys are a team where once things start to snowball, it can have an avalanche effect. Against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys got down 9-0 early and were never able to recover. In Week 5 against the 49ers, San Francisco scored the games first 14 points. Are the Cowboys a team that can play from behind? When things get off-script, Mike McCarthy tends to unravel.
It’s going to be crucial for the Rams to come out of the gates and score an early touchdown, get a defensive stop, and then add on to their lead. The Cowboys rank 20th with 0.24 three-and-outs per drive on offense. For as good as the defense is, the offense can be inconsistent. The Rams need to be able to take advantage of that inconsistency.
4. Take Away CeeDee Lamb From Dak Prescott
Outside of CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys are missing a second wide receiver who can pose as a threat. Tony Pollard and Jake Ferguson are the team’s top two wide receivers behind Lamb this season. Just accounting for the Cowboys wide receiver, Lamb leads the team with 35 receptions. The next closest Cowboys wide receiver has 18 and that’s Michael Gallup.
When targeting Lamb this season, Prescott has a passer rating of 121.7 which is higher than Gallup and Brandin Cooks combined. Prescott’s passer rating when targeting Gallup is 62.4 and his passer rating when targeting Cooks is just 43.8. Ernest Jones and Michael Hoecht are likely going to be a focal point in coverage as the Cowboys target Pollard and Ferguson. However, it will be up to Ahkello Witherspoon to take away Lamb.
5. Continue Using Tight Ends and Running Backs to Chip
The Rams used their tight ends and running backs in pass protection more than they have the entire season last week against the Steelers. Tyler Higbee and Davis Allen combined for eight snaps in protection while Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson combined for 14. The result was two pressures for TJ Watt which was his fewest since Week 13 of last season.
While it’s not something that McVay likes to do, it may be necessary again against the Cowboys. That will especially be the case if Rob Havenstein is out with a calf injury. The Rams need to try to mitigate the damage done by Micah Parsons. Whether it’s chipping him or sliding protection his way, or a combination of both, the Rams will likely try it all. However, throwing the ball is going to be the reason Los Angeles wins. In order for pass protection to hold up, they’ll need to get the running backs and tight ends involved once again.