Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
When: Sunday, 13th January, 1.15am
The last and only time Jason Garrett’s Cowboys travelled to the Coliseum to face Sean McVay’s Rams was for the first preseason game of McVay’s first season as head coach in 2017.
Dallas lost 13-10.
The two teams faced each other again during the regular season on Week 4 in Dallas, and again the Rams came out on top 35-30. Garrett has been stung by McVay during his tenure as Rams coach, a stark contrast to his 4-2 record against the wunderkind during his 3 year spell as offensive coordinator for the Redskins. Over the past 2 years McVay has turned into an itch that Garrett will be looking forward to have a chance at scratching on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
This matchup will be a battle between two teams on various levels; from the two head coaches, to the two Pro-Bowl running backs, and lastly between a defense on the rise, and the best defensive player in the league.
Rams running back Todd Gurley looks to return to the offense after missing over a month with a knee injury. His addition to the lineup will be a relief for the Rams who surely watched with nervous interest as the Cowboys held Seattle’s number one ranked rushing attack to just 73 yards in their wildcard win last weekend.
On the other sideline, his Pro-Bowl companion Ezekiel Elliott will also be just as key for the Cowboys’ success. Elliott has been superlative for Dallas this season with over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and Los Angeles will be looking to contain him on the ground as well as stifle his relationship with quarterback Dak Prescott through the air.
Enter soon to be Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. Donald was 2 sacks shy of breaking Michael Strahan’s single season record, but still finished with 20.5 which was the most for a defensive tackle in NFL history, despite being double-teamed more than any other player. He was named to his fourth All-Pro team in five years, becoming one of only 3 players to ever do so. His 25 tackles for loss and 41 quarterback hits will surely weigh on the minds of Dallas’ patchwork offensive line who will be key in opening lanes for Elliott on the ground, whilst protecting Prescott from the rush.
Donald will be problematic in both areas.
On the other side of the ball Dallas also possesses the weapons to slow down the Rams dynamic offense in the form of inside linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The latter leads the team with 140 combined tackles and has lived up to his first round selection last year. The returning Sean Lee logged a limited snap count against Seattle but his inclusion adds depth to a positional group for the Cowboys that will be key in disrupting Todd Gurley and Jared Goff.
The key for the Cowboys will be to replicate the formula that led them to victory against Seattle and New Orleans. Slow the game down. Run the ball, keep possession, and stymie your opponent by keeping their offense off the field. The ankle injuries to Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley thin the options for Dallas with regards to throwing the ball, so look to them to try and control the game on the ground.
Cowboys cornerbacks Chidobe Owuzie and Byron Jones are one of the best tandems in the NFL and will present a tough test for Jared Goff who coughed up 6 picks in the final 5 weeks of the regular season, so look for him to lean more on his run game with Gurley or CJ Anderson as well.
Whoever runs the ball more efficiently and proves to be the more stout defense has the edge in this matchup, and whichever team wins the battles between the tackles will be sure to win the war.
Prediction: Rams win 20-17
Photo credit: Tim Heitman (USA Today)
Our NFC East reporter is Chris Milner who covers Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants. Chris is a Washington Redskins fan who has followed the game since 2011. He is one of our fantasy football correspondents and also co-hosts the ‘Same Level Fantasy Football’ podcast. Follow him on Twitter @chrismilner