Cautiously optimistic. That's how I'd describe how much of Cowboys Nation feels about this game. Deservedly so. The Dallas Cowboys seem to matchup pretty well with the Los Angeles Rams as we head into Saturday's Divisional game. However, matching up well and taking advantage of those areas where you have an edge are two entirely different things.
Remember when Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have similar weapons as the Rams. Not so crazy now.
The last time these two teams played in the regular season was in 2017. It was a shootout in every essence of the word. It was one of two games that season where the offense scored 30 or more points and still lost the contest because their defense couldn't stop the Rams that day. In large part because there was no Sean Lee.
Without Sean Lee in 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were terrible on defense. Jaylon Smith was still working his way back to a football field functional level of health and Damien Wilson was your second linebacker that day. We all remember him in coverage attempting to stay with Todd Gurley. It wasn't a pretty site.
Fast forward a year and a half and the linebacking situation has changed drastically since that disappointing loss in 2017.
Sean Lee is now on the back burner at the linebacker position. Jaylon Smith played as well as any linebacker in football this season and Leighton Vander Esch could win the defensive rookie of the year in a year where there were several standout defensive rookies. The team is still using Damien Wilson, but is doing so sparingly, which helps him and the defense. Also, they have Joe Thomas getting sub package snaps and playing really well for the Cowboys in coverage.
This is a totally different Cowboys team than the one we saw in 2017. They have what it takes to win, but will they?
On the Road — but not really — Again
The Dallas Cowboys this season were 3-5 on the road. Prior to this season, only once since 2014 have the Dallas Cowboys been worse than .500 on the road; the 2015 season where they went 4-12. That team went 3-5 on the road.
In Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach, the Cowboys have never been worse than 3-5 on the road. However, in the 2014 and 2016 seasons, where they won the division, they went 8-0 on the road and 6-2 on the road. In 2017, they also went 6-2 on the road.
It's the first time the Dallas Cowboys had a winning record on the season, while having a losing record on the road.
Generally speaking the Cowboys have been really good on the road in Jason Garrett's tenure, but for some reason, they haven't fared as well this season. Now they've played in some tough places this season like Seattle and Carolina. In the first seven games of the season, the Dallas Cowboys went 0-4 on the road. They finished the season strong by going 3-1 in the back half of the season, their lone road loss, the shutout in Indianapolis.
With an expectation that there will be a Dallas Cowboys fans in Los Angeles for this week's game, this has the possibility of being more of a neutral site game than a road game. Pundits are anticipating that the crowd could be more than half Cowboys fans. The Cowboys have held training camp in Oxnard, California for years and have had a footprint in Southern California for a long time.
Even though they're on the road, that should give the Cowboys a huge lift, especially on defense.
The Cowboys don't have the luxury of starting slow on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. The Rams can score quick and put you in a double-digit hole in the blink of an eye. We've seen the offense start slow in a lot of first halves, but come on strong in the second half to pull away.
The offense can't afford to be sluggish out of the gate. The Rams are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys have to take advantage of that. They have to get Ezekiel Elliott going early and use Dak Prescott in the running game to try to take the wind out of the Rams defense, in particular Aaron Donald.
This is a defense that wants you to throw the ball, so if you can get touchdowns early in the game and not allow the Rams offense to get ahead of you, the Cowboys should have an opportunity to control this game from the outset with their excellent running game.
On the flip side, the Cowboys defense can't afford to allow any big plays in the early going or quick scoring drives. When those things happen, it puts pressure on the offense to score and if they don't, it can take all the wind out the team's sails.
Making a Difference, By Amari Cooper
Imagine how this season would have gone had the Dallas Cowboys front office not pulled the trigger on the Amari Cooper trade. The team was 3-4 and was struggling to find their footing in the 2018 NFL Season. They were struggling to find any consistency on offense. The Cowboys weren't getting big plays.
The offense is just different with this guy in the lineup.
Cooper is always open and his run after catch ability has been a huge asset for the Cowboys offense that was much more plodding prior to the trade.
With Cooper and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys now have two legitimate threats to score every time they touch the ball.
Rise of the (New) Triplets
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all out their imprint on the Cowboys win last week and now the Cowboys finally seem to have a Triplets Redux.
Dak Prescott’s passing line wasn’t impressive, but it was the plays he made at the end of the game that gave Cowboys Nation belief that this is a guy that is going to will the Cowboys to victory.
Ezekiel Elliott has more than 100 yards rushing and had his two biggest runs of the game at times where the team needed a big play. First at the end of the first half, Elliott bounced outside and took the ball for a huge gain that led to Dak Prescott’s touchdown pass to Michael Gallup. Then as the Cowboys were trying to salt away the game, he again bounced to the outside and after putting a Seattle defensive back in the dirt was able to pick up the first down and more while keeping the clock running.
Amari Cooper has a huge impact on the game as well. Caught four first downs while going over 100 yards on seven catches himself. He sparked the offense with his big run after the catch toward the end of the game, and has done that for 11 weeks.
For years the Cowboys front office tried to have an updated version of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, with little success. But with the 2018’s version of The Triplets all under 25 and still on their rookie contracts, they’ve finally found three players who can be what the Triplets if the 90’s were to the Cowboys of the 90’s.
This is a really hard game to pick. All week I’ve been working to not let the fan in me take over. I’ve attempted to maintain a sense of rationality with this game. Every time I think about the game, I just get the feeling the Cowboys win.
The Cowboys offense can win on the ground and through the air against the Rams defense.
We’ve seen this defense take over games like they did against the Saints. They have the mix of speed, physicality, and heart to play with a team as explosive as the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cowboys have the offensive and defensive formula to win this time of year. They run the ball, hit explosive plays in the passing game, and eat up large portions of the game clock. On defense they can get pressure with their front four and have a team that rallies to the ball and makes plays.
So with that, I see the Cowboys coming away with yet again, a close victory.