Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview
Overview: This is a challenging game to predict for a few reasons, not the least of the preseason at all. For the Rams, we have new offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators. The Ram's new OC, Kevin O'Connell, knows Dallas (and vice-versa) from his days as OC for the Washington Football Team (known as these days). Although O'Connell expected to call the Rams' plays, the overall offensive mastermind will still be head coach Sean McVay. However, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has never been an NFL coordinator before. Expect him to implement many of the schemes favored by his former coach, Denver HC and former Chicago Bears DC Vic Fangio. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that nobody outside the Rams locker room precisely knows what Staley will be calling.
Rams Defense vs. Dallas Offense: Many people think this Cowboy's offense can be historically good. Besides 2019, Amari Cooper, Micheal Gallup, Ezekiel Elliot, and speedy wideout CeeDee Lamb added to the roster. With the Rams fielding a defense for the first time under a new DC and many new players, this could be a problem for Los Angeles.
The good news for the Rams is that they have one of the best secondaries in the league. Jalen Ramsey this week has become the highest-paid NFL cornerback ever, and that is not an accident. He is likely to match up with Cowboys number one receiver Amari Cooper in an epic battle on Sunday night. Ramsey won his battle with Cooper as severely as the Rams played in last year's 44-21 debacle against Dallas. He needs to do so again on Sunday.
Over on the other side, the best cornerback many people may have never heard of, Troy Hill, is an emerging star. Hill has made himself into an outstanding NFL cornerback, something that did not seem likely a few years ago. He will probably see a lot of Lamb or Gallup. Add in safeties John Johnson and Taylor Rapp, and you have an excellent secondary.
We are more worried about the Dallas running game. The Rams will be starting two new guys inside, probably Micah Kiser and Troy Reeder, with Kenny Young, who came over from the Ravens last year in the trade and got many reps. Ezekiel Elliot had a big day when these two teams met, and the Rams cannot afford to let that happen again.
One matchup the Rams need to win is that of out6side linebacker Leonard Floyd versus Dallas right tackle Cam Erving. Erving steps in for the injured La'el Collins, and he is reportedly coming off a short training camp. Meanwhile, Floyd was generally considered something of a disappointment in Chicago, especially as a pass rusher. Hopefully, a fresh start will bring out the talent that many saw in him when he was a high first-round pick out of Georgia a few years ago.
The Cowboys are also replacing center Travis Frederick who retired, with Joe Don Looney. Rams all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald will likely see double and triple teams all-day. The Rams have to get someone else into the Dallas backfield, whether it is Floyd, follow outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, new addition lb Justin Hollins (recently signed as a free agent from Denver), or whomever.
It could be a game where the Rams feel the absence of massive nose tackle A'Shawn Robinson, out for at least half of the season. Robinson may not be a household name, but he tends to clog the middle of the field against the run by his sheer size. His replacement, Sebastion Joseph-Day, offers a little more against the passing game. However, a 3-4 nose tackle is generally a run-stopper, and Joseph-Day lacks the genuinely massive size ideally for that position.
Rams Offense vs. Dallas Defense: Like it or not, the reality is that the Rams will probably need to score at least 27 points and possibly more to win this game. As with everything else about this matchup, there are many unknowns and new faces to try to factor in.
The Rams hope to take advantage of the apparent weak link in the Cowboys D, the secondary. CB Byron Jones left Dallas for Miami on the offseason, and he was quickly their best cover guy. Anthony Brown and (most likely) rookie Trevon Diggs will start at the corner. They are not bad, but on paper, at least, this seems like a matchup the Rams can take advantage of, with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and (we think) rookie Van Jefferson. Fourth receiver Josh Reynolds will also likely get some snaps and do not be surprised to see the Rams come out in a lot of three and four-receiver sets. One of the Rams offense criticisms last year was that they played three-receiver, one tight-end one back offenses almost exclusively, and got a little predictable. Late in the year, as the team continued to try to improve on poor offensive line play, we saw more two-tight end sets, with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett on the field at the same time. Rooke tight-end Brycen Hopkins could get into the action for Los Angeles as well.
Speaking of poor offensive line play, the Rams have to be better upfront than in 2019 if they want to win this game. Right tackle Rob Havenstein will probably see a lot of Cowboys end Demarcus Lawrence. Who knows what to expect from Havenstein, who went from being one of the league's better right tackles to being not very good from 2018-2019. The Rams may try to get him some help with a tight end on Lawrence, a pass-rushing demon. Over on the other side, Andrew Whitworth will probably see many newly-acquired Everson Griffen and the recently re-instated Aldon Smith. At 38 is no youngster, Whitworth needs to hold his own at least, or it could get ugly.
In the backfield, Todd Gurley, who was not the same guy last year, is gone to Atlanta, where he hopes to revive his career. He will be mostly replaced by well; we do not know for sure. Gurley's former back up, Malcolm Brown, is listed as the nominal starter. However, Coach McVay has been making comments all season about the team "expecting a lot" from rookie Cam Akers, and we suspect that Akers will get most of the touches. However, former third-round pick Darrel Henderson, listed as healthy for this game, may get some action. Henderson's only question was whether the time he missed in training camp would limit his availability in the season's first game.
Special Teams: The Rams will see a couple of familiar faces on the opposite sideline in special teams coach John "Bones" Fassell and placekicker Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein. Let us hope the game does not come down to a last-minute field-goal attempt by Zuerlein. Yes, he missed a couple of critical kicks last season against rivals Seattle and San Francisco that may have kept the Rams out of the playoffs. He still has one of the most robust legs in the game. Many people were surprised to see the highly-regarded Fassell exit, Los Angeles. We are a little concerned about this matchup in this game. However, the Rams still have the best punter on the planet in Johnny Hekker. Even so..slight edge to Dallas here.
Coaching: Many folks thought Dallas perennially underachieved under former head coach Jason Garrett. Was he the problem, or did people think the Cowboys—a perennial media darling—were a little better than they were? We may find out this season, as veteran head coach Mike McCarthy has replaced Garrett on the sidelines. We think that is a step up for Dallas.
However, Sean McVay will be out to restore his reputation, and having someone else to handle the play-calling (where McVay seemed to get a little pass-happy in 2019) is probably a good thing. We could argue this one, but we are going to check the box for the Rams.
Prediction: If I were a gambler in Vegas, we would shy away from this game. There are just too many unknowns, especially regarding the Rams. The odds say Dallas by three points. Our personal opinion is "pick 'em," although this could get ugly if the Rams defense does not play well.
Rams 30 Dallas 28.