Matthew Stafford vs Micah Parsons
The Los Angeles Rams have played two games against NFL pass-rushing powerhouses and they lost both of those games. In those games, Matthew Stafford was pressured 32 times. Their two wins have come against two of the league’s worst pass-rushing teams. In wins, Stafford has been pressured just six times. Unfortunately for the Rams, the Cowboys are among the league’s best when it comes to getting to the quarterback. “The Sandlot” may sum up how Rams fans have been feeling. “We’ve been going about this all wrong.”
Dallas is tied for the most team pressures in the league with 55, per Pro Football Reference, and Micah Parsons is leading the team in that regard. Parsons started the year hot with four sacks in the first two games. But since he has cooled a bit. He has gone two games without a sack and had only one pressure against the Commanders last week. Which is weird.
The Commander’s offensive line has given up the most pressures in the league through four weeks and in Week 3 they allowed nine sacks. That seemed like a prescription for Parsons to go wild on and yet he didn’t. A possible back injury may have been the culprit, but sometimes even the best hit a slump. The question for this week is, which Parsons will line up against the Ram’s offensive line?
The Rams offensive line has given up fewer pressures than the Commanders, but it’s hard to argue they are a better unit. Pro Football Focus grades them as the worst pass-blocking line in the NFL and they have allowed the second most sacks with 16, 14 of which came in losses.
The influence of injuries has continued to rear its ugly head. The Rams lost former starting guard and backup center, Coleman Shelton, to a high ankle sprain for four to six weeks. Jeremiah Kolone took over for him as the snapper logging the first NFL snaps of his career. Kolone gave up four pressures in his 58 reps at the position.
The Rams have signed guards Matt Skura and Oday Aboushi to help alleviate the attrition on the interior of the offensive line. Aboushi is currently on the active roster and Skura is on the practice squad. Although, Sean McVay has spoken of moving Skura to the active roster. They will also bring some veteran know-how to the very young and green line. Skura has started in some capacity over the last five seasons and Aboushi has been in the league since 2013.
David Edwards has cleared the concussion protocol and will be ready to go for Sunday’s game.
One bright spot has been the play of Alaric Jackson, who stepped into the starting right guard position when Shelton moved to center when Brian Allen was injured. Jackson has allowed just four pressures in three games and three of those pressures came against the 49ers last week. With all the shuffling that is going to happen over the next several weeks, a change at left guard is the best thing the Rams could do.
Joseph Noteboom has not lived up to the challenge. Noteboom has given up 20 pressures and five sacks in four games. Andrew Whitworth gave up 20 pressures in all of last season including the playoffs. Jackson could be the answer for the Rams at left tackle. Jackson played limited snaps last season at left tackle and spoke about being prepared to step into the tackle role earlier this season.
On Friday McVay announced the starting line will include Noteboom at left tackle. It’s clear the Rams have been going about that position the wrong way. Hopefully, they will take a big leap in the right direction in the next few days.
While Parsons has taken a step back over the last two games, DeMarcus Lawrence has come on to make up for him. In the last two games, Lawrence has had 16 pressures, including three sacks and 11 hurries. That’s an impressive one-two punch that neither the Bills nor the 49ers brought with them.
If both Parsons and Lawrence get going against the Rams it could be Stafford’s worst game of the season and that’s saying a lot.
But, Stafford is still the Rams best hope of beating the Cowboys. As weird as it is to say, the Rams will be the best offense the Cowboys have gone up against since Week 1 when they played the Buccaneers.
Not that the current offense would move the ball against the Cowboys. McVay will have to adjust and find answers to operating with a bad offensive line. Ben Skowronek running out of the backfield is part of the answer. Adding Malcolm Brown, a pass-blocking running back, is a part of the answer.
An element we haven’t seen yet is in play design. The Rams seem to be attempting to run their offense like it’s still 2021. With this offensive line, they need Stafford to get rid of the ball quickly, while also not sacrificing space for the receivers to make plays.
The 2022 version of the Rams offense won’t look as pretty as last season, but the reality is they will have to learn to mitigate the damage that pass rushers will have on the offense. Last season, Stafford’s completed air yards were 6.8 yards per completion which led the league. This year it’s 4.2 and second to last. This means that Stafford is throwing shorter passes but the yards after the catch have remained the same as last season, 5.3 yards per catch each year.
This is due in large part because the shorter passes Stafford has completed are check-down options, which aren’t schemed to be efficient. Just to avoid big negative plays. Stafford will need schemed short passes that allow the pass-catcher to gain big yards after the catch. McVay doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, just look to game tape against the 49ers. They lead the league in yards after the catch per completion and they led last season too.
This is a more physical style of play that the Rams haven’t been too keen to play in the McVay era, frankly because they aren’t built to do so. But they do have players that CAN play bully ball. Brandon Powell is one and Darrell Henderson is another. Odd as it is to say, Tutu Atwell could actually be used in this style if he is schemed with enough space to allow for some straight-line running. It doesn’t need to become the whole of the offense, but a few plays a series can go a long way in keeping drives alive by avoiding sacks and allaying the pass rush.
Stafford is already doing the right thing by getting the ball out quicker, he just needs the right plays to keep the sticks moving and get defenses to play on their heels rather than pinning their ears back.
The Rams Rushing Attack vs The Dallas Defensive Line
Yes, the Dallas defense is great. They have held opponents to an average of 15.5 points per game. But where they have struggled is against the run. They have allowed 550 yards on the ground, sixth most in the NFL, and 5 yards per carry, eighth most. They have given up more than 140 yards on the ground three times this year, including 152 yards to the Buccaneers, who haven’t rushed for more yards than that since 2020. Tampa Bay has the second-fewest rushing yards on the season.
The Rams have the third-fewest. So the Rams aren’t a rushing powerhouse either. They don’t have a lot of production but they also have the second-fewest rushing attempts in the league. Cam Akers‘ return has generally been seen as a bust. In part, this is an extension of the woes at the offensive line. Rams running backs are averaging 1.9 yards before contact, second to last in the league. For context, the Giants with Saquon Barkley have 3.3 yards before contact.
But the Rams running backs aren’t doing much with the ball after contact either, just 1.5 yards after contact, 24th in the league. It’s not a surprise that McVay hasn’t had faith in that aspect of the game. He rarely has in the post–Todd Gurley era. But this season he has even less to believe in.
Similarly to the passing game, the Rams will have to try a different approach in this game than they have all season.
They need to test the Cowboys run defense and they will have to stick with it. Dallas will be the worst run defense they have faced so far. The Bills, Cardinals, and 49ers are all in the top five against the rushing attack and yet the Rams managed to put up 100 yards against Arizona. Akers led the way in that game with 12 carries for 61 yards.
A good game from Akers would go a long way in building his confidence and feeling out where he fits in the offense as well.
Jalen Ramsey vs CeeDee Lamb
The Cowboys have a similar issue to the Rams. That is to say, only a handful of receivers have made a significant impact. Each team has only two pass catchers that have been targeted more than 20 times. For Dallas, CeeDee Lamb is one of them. He has been targeted 39 times. Lamb accounts for 34.4% of Dallas passing yards. So stopping him goes a long way to stopping the Cowboys offense. Tampa Bay held him to 2 catches for 29 yards and limited the Cowboys to just three points.
Stopping Lamb is no easy task in part because he can be moved all over the field. He plays in the slot about 55% of passing snaps and the rest out wide and he lines up on the left side as much as he does the right side. This is good for the Rams because Jalen Ramsey can play at every one of those spots.
Ramsey has been on a role as of late after a rough start against Buffalo. Since then he has been targeted 10 times and allowed five catches for 44 yards. He’s broken up three passes and intercepted one more. Ramsey has allowed an average NFL passer rating of 62.1 over the last three weeks. San Francisco continued to employ their preferred strategy of ‘just avoid him all together.’ He had zero targets last week.
If Ramsey is covering Lamb, that strategy won’t be possible. They will be forced to throw at Ramsey. Not that that is altogether a good thing for the Rams, but if Ramsey continues his dominant streak it will be a good hard-fought matchup.
Although, as mentioned before, the Cowboys have two receivers that have made a significant impact this season. Noah Brown is trailing Lamb by just 5 catches and 14 yards. If you aren’t familiar with Brown you probably aren’t alone. His 18 receptions and 274 yards through four games are already a career-high despite being in the league since 2017.
He was drafted by the Cowboys out of Ohio State in the seventh round. He is very similar to Lamb in height, 6’2, but outweighs him by 25 pounds. He is also similar to Lamb in that he moves around in the offense. He plays about half the time in the slot and lines up on both sides of the field.
Dallas also added Michael Gallup back to the roster after missing time due to an injury. Gallup didn’t have a big contribution to the offense last week but has always been a reliable option for them.
The trio will be a tough test for the young defensive backs that make up the patchwork cornerback room in Los Angeles.
A Highly Penalized Team vs The Least Penalized Team
The Rams are the least penalized team in the league with just 14 flags pulled on them. Six of their penalties have been false starts and two more for offensive holding. Another drawback of having a young/inexperienced offensive line.
Of course, penalties result in lost yardage but they are also drive killers. The Cowboys on the other hand are the 7th most penalized team with 27. Dallas leads the league in false start penalties with nine. The Rams need to take advantage of self-inflicted wounds when teams present them.