4 Key Matchups For The Rams Against The Cowboys
COVID-19 Vs. Football
It is unfortunate that the coronavirus has to be a caveat to everything this year, including football, but it is still a very real threat. For the NFL, it is about to enter uncharted territory. It is the first American professional sports league not to see sweeping overhauls to its normal course of play. There have been new preventative protocols, changes to training camp, and a canceled preseason.
Those changes will have effects on the season, but compared to the MLB, NBA, and NHL, the football season looks…normal? Normal, as in, the season is going to start on time and is scheduled to end on time. On the other hand, SoFi and most of the league’s stadiums will have zero fans in attendance, so normalcy is subjective. Of course, this lack of normalcy is in place to ensure that the season doesn’t come to a screeching halt. Which could happen if these rules aren’t going far enough.
The COVID rules have been put in place to ensure that that version of normalcy stays on course. With an expanded practice squad and special IR dispensations, the NFL hopes to keep the league humming along. With those things in place, teams will be able to field 11-man sides even if they aren’t the troops they want to go into battle with.
But that leaves a lot of room for what if’s. The list of what if’s is endless. This means the teams that eliminate the biggest what if by adhering to the rules will come out on top at the end of the day. Every year, teams that are the most disciplined and smartest are at the top of the standings. This year will be no different, but COVID-19 will add a new and distinct layer to that. Some players will make the right choices and some will make late-night runs to strip clubs for chicken wings.
A big side effect of the changes that were made to training camp will be something to watch, particularly in week one. Teams have already seen a rash of injuries, from minor week-to-week issues to season-ending catastrophes. One of the biggest, so far, is the loss of Broncos All-Pro Von Miller.
Injuries this season will be high, similar to the 2011 season, which saw a shortened training camp due to labor negotiations. 2011 saw a number of league altering injuries including Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, and DeMarco Murray. So far this season, the Rams have lost ILB, Travin Howard to a knee injury, and nose tackle, A’Shawn Robinson, has been placed on the PUP list with an undisclosed heart ailment. The Cowboys have lost offensive tackle, La’el Collins, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and linebacker Sean Lee.
With a truncated camp and no preseason games, there will be some sloppy and unprepared players on the field, which will result in injuries in week one. Veterans will have the upper hand in that respect, but that won’t protect them from being on the receiving end of a dumb mistake.
Aaron Donald Vs. The Right Side Of The Cowboys Line
It is nearly unanimous that Aaron Donald is the best pass rusher in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys offensive line was ranked third on PFF’s preseason ranking. While that ranking came out before the Collins injury, they are still a formidable opponent. Last season, in their matchup, the Cowboys held Donald to zero sacks and zero QB hits. A feat that was accomplished by only four teams last season. Three of the four teams came away with decisive victories.
Cam Erving will be the starter at right tackle and Zach Martin will be at right guard. Erving is a quality veteran signing who started eight games with the Chiefs last season but was supposed to back up Collins. Zach Martin is one of the league’s best offensive linemen, allowing zero sacks since late in the 2018 season.
The Cowboys are going to be heavily reliant on their offense to score big points and do it in the first half. Donald is, not only, the Rams’ first line of defense, he is the linchpin to keep the lid on this offense. While they are ranked highly, the offensive line may be the only weak link of a very strong chain. The Rams will need Donald to make several disruptive plays in order to keep this offense in check.
Not only will Donald need to put up better stats than last season, but he will also need to garner even more attention from the Cowboys defense. This will free up the rest of the defense to get into the pocket. The Rams will need, at least, one defender to step into the void left by Dante Fowler.
In the previous matchup, Donald also logged zero QB pressures, and the rest of the team managed to get pressure three times. That game was the least pressure the Rams got all season. Dak Prescott is a very good quarterback under pressure, but under no pressure, he’s unstoppable. This go-round, the Rams will need to change that, and it starts with Donald.
The Rams Secondary Vs. Dak Prescott
If Aaron Donald is #1 in the line of defense, Jalen Ramsey is 1B. The richest corner in NFL history also has to play flawlessly to slow the Cowboys. If the Cowboys o-line is the weak link in the very strong chain, then Dak Prescott and his receivers are the strongest. In the draft, the Cowboys added CeeDee Lamb to the already dynamic receiving duo of Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper.
Last season, Ramsey came up huge. He rendered Cooper a non-factor in the game. Ramsey was only thrown at once that game. That would be a good game plan if that was the end of the story. However, last season, the Cowboys were up 28-7 at halftime. Dak Prescott only threw the ball seven times in the second half.
It is unknown exactly how Dallas will use the trio of receivers, but it is likely that Cooper will predominantly play outside and Gallup and Lamb will divide the slot duties. Last season, they used 11 personnel 64% of the time and will probably use it even more this season to keep the three on the field as much as possible. In their previous game, the Cowboys threw to their receivers in the middle of the field with great success. They targeted the Rams linebackers and safeties 14 times, while the corners were targeted seven times. They will likely attack the same positions this time around.
Unfortunately, the Rams didn’t get better at linebacker. Micah Kiser and Samson Ebukam will likely struggle in coverage against the speedy Lamb. Leonard Floyd will be the Rams’ best linebacker for coverage, but the safeties will be the best line of defense over the middle. Of course, this game plan will rely heavily on Ramsey and Troy Hill having shutdown performances. Otherwise, Taylor Rapp and John Johnson will have far too much territory to cover.
It is likely that Brandon Staley will have some interesting safety schemes cooked up to deal with this passing attack. Likely those would also bring rookies Jordan Fuller and Terrell Burgess into the fold.
Look for the Rams safeties to make several big plays. If they are able to create a turnover or two, the Rams will have a much better shot at winning their first game at SoFi stadium.
Rams O-line Vs. Cowboys D-line
Last season saw the regression of Rob Havenstein and Austin Blythe. Both dropped significantly in their PFF ratings. Last season’s line was also massacred by injuries. Only Andrew Whitworth and Blythe played more than 70% of the snaps. Considering how much is riding on the improvement of the Rams offensive line, one would think that the Rams would have made some offseason improvements. But, Sean McVay seems content to trot out the same front five for 2020.
It’s the opposite story on the other side of the ball for the Cowboys. They spent the offseason grabbing every available defensive lineman. They added Gerald McCoy, Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith, and Dontari Poe in an attempt to shore up their defensive front. On paper, this group looks like a dominant line, but can this frankenline live up to its star power? Gerald McCoy is already injured, Aldon Smith has a penchant for getting in trouble, and Griffen is getting up there in age and won’t likely return to his 2017 form. Furthermore, with the limited training camp, how locked in can these additions be?
The Rams line has to play better this season and especially in this game. The Cowboys are going to score a lot of points. The best chance a team has is to contain them and try to keep up. The Rams will have a new look for the running game and, of course, that will depend heavily on blocking. Jared Goff is not good under pressure and, of course, that begins with the blocking. While the Rams didn’t bolster their offensive line, they did integrate Johnny Mundt as a full back and will be using more 12 personnel. Both should provide more protection for Goff and the run game.
Watching these two squads battle it out will be telling for both teams moving forward. The one that wins the battle on Sunday night will likely decide the game.