The anticipation for the Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round game at the Los Angeles Rams is building, spurred by the excitement in Cowboys Nation that the team can execute their proven game plan to win a second playoff game. Running the ball, neutralizing the Rams defense up front, slowing an injured Todd Gurley, and affecting Jared Goff are all keys to the Cowboys success on Saturday.
The Cowboys identity is built through their offensive line, and will have their hands full with a Rams front featuring Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers, and Dante Fowler. The weakness of the Rams defense, coordinated by Wade Phillips, is a secondary the Cowboys aren’t at full strength to exploit.
Allowing Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper to dictate this game with the ball in Dak Prescott’s hands is still a much better game plan for the Cowboys compared to the alternative – allowing the Rams defensive line to wreck this game entirely.
Donald will move up and down LA’s front four, meaning both Joe Looney and Connor Williams could have their hands full with the most dominant defender in the league. The consolation prize for the rookie left guard or Cowboys backup center will be Suh, playing the 1T position for the Rams this season.
Suh and Donald have combined for 25 sacks this season. The Rams’ 5.1 yards allowed per rush (last in the NFL) is an enticing number for the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, but they must be prepared to not let the home team’s best players carry them.
The Rams have lost only an astonishing 12 games in five years when Donald records a sack, something he did four times over the last two weeks of the regular season.
For the first time in his eight year career, Left Tackle Tyron Smith will return to the LA Coliseum as the Cowboys first round pick out of Southern California in 2011.
The same is true of Defensive Tackle Antwaun Woods out of USC, the Cowboys starter at 1T defensive tackle tasked with slowing Rams Running Back Todd Gurley. A full participant in Thursday’s practice, Gurley is set to play for the first time since week 15.
He’ll return to rushing behind an offensive line that lifted him to 1,251 yards and a career-high 17 touchdowns in 14 games. Woods hasn’t been the only Cowboys “Hot Boyz” member to play the run well, with DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins all taking pride in both pass rush and rush defense skills.
Goff is 11-12 on his career when sacked twice or more in a game. Not the same rushing threat that Russell Wilson presented the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round, Dallas must disrupt Goff’s rhythm and affect him in the pocket to get the Rams off the field.
If not, the Rams can simply beat the Cowboys at their own game in their second home playoff game in as many years. This would be quite the fall from grace for Cowboys Nation, relieved to be traveling to Los Angeles after the Eagles held off the Bears instead of playing the Saints on the road.
The Cowboys blueprint for winning games started them at 3-5, now propelling them into the “Elite Eight” remaining in contention for the Super Bowl. Reaching their first NFC Championship Game since 1995 will take a near flawless execution of this plan against a 13-win Rams team capable of beating teams in a multitude of ways.
Simply pounding the football and relying on a stout defensive line is one of them – albeit an outcome the Cowboys should be prepared for, especially considering the coaching connections between these Divisional Round opponents.