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Rams defense turns another struggling offense into a juggernaut

Dallas Cowboys score on six of their first seven possessions to smother L.A. 43-20

Los Angeles Rams v Dallas Cowboys
Rams defensive line started out hot with three sacks in the first quarter
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

In a span of three minutes, the Los Angeles Rams completely imploded, allowing the Dallas Cowboys to score 19 points and roll on to a 43-20 route. Even though the loss was the expected outcome, it was the total breakdown of all three facets of the L.A. game that made it so grisly to watch. Adding insult to injury, Head Coach Sean McVay didn’t have any answers, during or after the game.

For their part, the Rams defense turned another struggling quarterback (QB) and offense into a juggernaut with poor pass coverage and shoddy tackling. The Cowboys tallied on six of their first seven possessions and the non-score was a Rams interception at the goal line. Given the opportunity to play pitch and catch, QB Dak Prescott threw for 300 yards after averaging 222 per game coming in and nearly doubled his season total with four touchdown (TD) passes. The Cowboy offense had been 26th in TD passes, 28th in completed pass air yards, and dead last on intended air yards.

Here’s how the drive chart played out.

Drive #1

The defensive line started out red hot with two sacks in the first three plays, but a ticky-tack penalty on third and 15 snatched away a three and out. The Rams did follow up that penalty with another sack, but then the tide turned. QB Prescott hit six of seven passes, receivers were wide open in the soft areas of the zone and the TD came when the TE ran right past man coverage by linebacker (LB) Christian Rozeboom down the center of the field. Safety (S) Jordan fuller was slow to react and help. Cowboys 7, Rams 0.

Drive #2

L.A. was still in the game at this early point. A missed tackle by LB Ernest Jones turned into a 17 yard gain, edge (E) Michael Hoecht got pinned inside on a reverse for 12, and QB Prescott broke pocket contain to convert a couple of third downs. Then S Quentin Lake had a nice pass breakup in man and on third down from the Rams 31, defensive tackle (DT) Aaron Donald notched the Rams third official sack. The Dallas place kicker proceeded to boot a 58 yard field goal. Cowboys 10, Rams 3

Drive #3

Where things got away. After a Matthew Stafford pass was intercepted for a TD. The Rams followed that up with a three and out, but the Cowboys blocked the punt out of the end zone for a safety. The free kick was then returned 63 yards to the Rams 13. On play one, Dallas attacked wide with a reverse that E Byron Young played well. Play two had cornerback (CB) Derion Kendrick in man coverage on the outside receiver who gave a little head and shoulders juke outside and break to the post for a TD. Even though QB Prescott was late throwing it, there was enough space for an easy catch, S Russ Yeast. likely Kendrick’s inside help, had bitten on well-covered shorter route. Cowboys 26, Rams 3.

Drive #4

The Cowboys kept their foot on the gas. QB Prescott went five of six for 56 yards, all wide open completions. The drive started on the Dallas 20 and rumbled to the Rams eight. On a pass from that deep position, DT Kobie Turner got a paw up and deflected it, the intended receiver reached back and tipped it again and S Jordan Fuller reeled in the carom for the score-stopping interception. Cowboys 26, Rams 3.

Drive #5

After a short Rams punt, Dallas took over on their own 37. Like a stuck needle on a record, the combination of receivers running free and bad tackling makes for disillusioned interest. QB Prescott went five of five, with no plays on the ground, to book 63 yards and a TD. On the score, Prescott wheeled out of the pocket and CB Duke Shelley broke off his man, WR CeeDee Lamb, to pursue him. The Dallas QB threw right to the uncovered WR. Cowboys 33, Rams 6.

Drive #6

The L.A. kickoff killed the last few seconds of the first half. Cowboys 33, Rams 9.

2nd half

Drive #7

After the Rams pulled within 16 points on their opening drive of the second half, Dallas answered with a field goal on a 10 play, 71 yard drive that ate up the the rest of the third quarter. It was a grinding drive, 51 yards on the ground and underneath passes. L.A. had a couple of shots to stop the drive, on a third and long, QB Prescott broke the pocket and picked it up. On another, CB Derion Kendrick committed pass interference on missed pass well short of the stick. Cowboys 36, Rams 17.

Drive #8

After taking over on downs around midfield, Dallas went for the jugular, QB Prescott completed three straight passes and delivered the coup de grace. CB Derion Kendrick was beaten for 24 down the sideline, a flat pass gained fine, and finally, Pokes WR Brandin Cooks gave a stutter step and raced past CB Ahkello Witherspoon for the 25 yard TD. Cowboys 43, Rams 17.

Drive #9

Dallas cleared the offensive bench to mop up and the Rams forced a three and out. Cowboys 43, Rams 17.

Drive #10

L.A. gets another three and out vs. the Dallas backups. Cowboys 43, Rams 20.

Drive #11

Kneel down to end the game. Cowboys 43, Rams 20.

What went wrong?

Although the Rams tackling was somewhat better, in pass coverage it didn’t matter whether man or zone, the secondary play was poor. There were a few pass breakups, but generally, the Cowboy receivers were wide open. I guess you could call it good news that the L.A. defense only allowed 102 rush yards at a 3.9 clip, both numbers under their season average of 117 and 4.1. The flip side to that, is opponents are not going to attack on the ground if they can complete 80% of passes.

Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris chose not to use a lot of exotic blitz reps, nor did he make use of stunts/twists/loops. Morris played it pretty straight on his formations as well, not much shifting, he lined them up in his preferred 4-2-5 on 24 plays, what used to be considered the base 5-2-4 on 12 plays and subbed out the linebacker for a 5-1-5 on 16 others. There is no telling how much the flow (and score) of the game dictated the formations and until the All-22 comes out, trying to put a figure on the coverages is futile.

Derion Kendrick struggled again and fans have to wonder, “How bad are the backups?” His mis-adventures are a weekly occurrence and while I think it’s fair to say there is some incremental improvement over his rookie year, by this time last season he had played himself off the field. At times, Russ Yeast seemed to be hustling to a spot without any awareness of where the ball was at and missed helping out or possibly making a play on the pass. DeCobie Durant left the game early and did not return.

Ernest Jones has been hurt and not practicing during the week. It shows. Why was he on the field in a route? Maybe Jake Hummel could develop into a contributor if he saw some action, particularly in runaways. While Jones continues to lead the Rams in tackles, none are affecting the opposition’s game and too often are of the downfield variety. Pro Football Reference has him down for one missed tackle on the season, but I counted three on Sunday alone. His numerous pass rush attempts, whether on a blitz or simulated, have not been effective.

The defensive line started out salty and recorded three sacks in the first quarter, but the Cowboys line adjusted and didn’t allow another. There was some later pressure, but a lot of it was a count late to disrupt the throw and QB Dak Prescott extended numerous plays with his nifty feet.

It was the Rams second straight foe coming off a bye week and it showed. Just as the Steelers did last week, the Cowboys offense basic attack was aimed at the edges and middle of the field, but their wide receiver lived in the creases of the zone and were seldom pressed in man. Next up are the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra, another struggling offense. This is the first “must win” on the slate. Will the Rams buck up and get back in the win column or continue to spiral downward?