Overview: Once again, the Los Angeles Rams face a "must-win" game. For the second consecutive week, the smart money in Vegas has been moving towards the Los Angeles Rams. At the start of the week, the Dallas Cowboys opened up as a 2.5 point favorite. However, the line since has moved in favor of the Rams by 1.5 on the road. We believe the Rams should win this game; however, there are reasons to be concerned. The Cowboys is a talented team that seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. Is that because of coaching, as many believe? Bad luck? Poor teamwork? It is hard to say, but this is not a team to take lightly. Dallas has been in free fall in recent weeks, but like the Rams, they are in '' must-win" fashion. They have also had over a week to try to live down from a nationally televised embarrassing loss to Buffalo Bills last Thursday. The Rams, meanwhile, have been wildly inconsistent all season. Can they put together their third strong performance in a row? We will see.
Rams Offense vs. Dallas Defense: The Cowboys will be without their best linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, which potentially is a huge deal. Even more so because his top backup, Sean Lee, is questionable with an injury. Lee will probably play, but how well is always the question in these situations. The Rams of late have been featuring Todd Gurley, and an injured Cowboy linebacking crew does not make containing TGII any easier. The Rams have finally gone to a balanced game plan on offense, which has opened up the play-action pass and the downfield passing game in general. They have to do that again on Sunday.
At this point, there is no point in saving Todd Gurley. For the Rams, this is essentially a playoff game.
The Rams offensive line has been much better in recent weeks, and they will need to continue that trend on Sunday in Dallas. Andrew Whitworth has been playing better recently at left tackle for the Rams, and he will match up against former Ram Robert Quinn in this game. Meanwhile, rookie tackle Bobby Evans will (probably) match up against DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side, with Rob Havenstein listed as doubtful at right tackle (it is not at all sure that Havenstein would start even if he were healthy). Evans has been a significant factor in the Rams offensive resurgence, battling players like Khalil Mack, Terrel Suggs, Mathew Judon, and Jadeveon Clowney and more than holding his own, albeit with some help at times.
If Whitworth and Evans can at least hold their ground in this game, quarterback Jared Goff can have a big day. Goff is deadly when he has time to throw and some semblance of a running game. When those things do not occur, he is not the same guy, and the Rams often lose.
The Rams receiving a trio of Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Cooper Kupp will test the depth of most NFL secondaries, and this week is no exception. Woods has been the hot hand lately, but each of these guys has their skillset, and they can all take over a game on a given Sunday. Expect the Rams offense to stack their receivers at the line of scrimmage, and use much motion (which they do) to free Kupp up against Jourdan Lewis. Lewis likes to press at the line of scrimmage. If the Rams can get Kupp free from press coverage, he could have a big day.
These days we cannot mention the Rams offense without mentioning Tight end Tyler Higbee, who has come into his own in recent weeks. Covering Higbee and the Rams wide receivers, not to mention Todd Gurley out of the backfield, is a challenge for any offense, especially one whose best linebacker will not play. That makes the battle in the trenches in this game even more critical.
The Cowboys have to pressure Jared Goff, or the Rams could light up the scoreboard in this game. If Dallas can pressure Goff and contain the Rams running game, they have a good chance of winning this critical game.
Rams defense vs. Dallas offense: We know how Rams corner Jalen Ramsey likes to trash talk and bad-mouth opponents? We have not been hearing any of that this week regarding Amari Cooper. He has called Cowboys receiver Cooper "elite" (which he is). The Ramsey vs. Cooper matchup is one worthy of the pro bowl, except it is even better because, in this case, both players care about winning, which is usually not the case in the Pro-Bowl. If Dallas can make some big plays downfield to Cooper, they can win this game, assuming the Cowboy defense does its job. If not, have to like the Rams chances.
The other guy we have to contain on defense by the Rams is, of course, Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot has had something on an off-year so far, in part because Dallas cannot seem to decide whether they are a passing or running team from week to week. However, Elliot is one of the best backs in the league, and he is the kind of guy who can take over a game on any given week. Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton, meanwhile, is having another high season, establishing himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He needs to play well on Sunday, including keeping Elliot's yards after contact to a minimum when he is tackling the former Ohio State star.
The next major point will be Aaron Donald, Dak Prescott's worst nightmare. We are old enough to have seen Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor, and when AD is on his game, he approaches that level of dominance. Even when he is not sacking the quarterback, he is a disruptive force, living in the backfield and causing problems for opposing offenses. The unenviable task of stopping Donald this week falls to Xavier Su'a-Filo, who forced into starting when starting left guard Conner Williams went down with an MCL injury.
Of course, the Cowboys are not going to be dumb enough to leave Su'a-Filo alone on AD very often, so expect center Travis Frederick and tackle Tyron Smith (who are both excellent) to lend a hand. That, of course, leaves other Rams players, including people like Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Micheal Brockers, and others, with potential one-on-one battles. They need to win at least some of those matchups in this game.
Prescott is like Jared Goff in the sense that he can be dangerous when he has time to throw, but he does not like pressure. The Rams have been blitzing a lot more since acquiring Jalen Ramsey, and we can probably expect to see more of that on Sunday.
Special Teams: Neither team has done much in the return game. Nsimba Webster, filling in for the injured JoJo Natson, averaged -1 yards returning punts last week against the Seahawks. Greg Zuerlein has a field goal attempt blocked. Johnny Hekker did have a good week, averaging around 50 yards per punt. The Rams special teams just have not lived up to their expectations this season overall. Nevertheless, Dallas has had its problems as well and gave the boot recently to placekicker Brett Maher, who had missed on 10 FG/extra-point attempts this season.
We will check this box for the Rams, but it is a concern for both teams.
Prediction: This score could be almost anything, and either team could win. However, based on recent trends, we have to like the Rams.
Rams 31 Dallas 27
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