The Dallas Cowboys (11-6) advanced in the playoffs after a 24-22 victory over the Seattle Seahawks (10-7). Because the Chicago Bears lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys will play the Los Angeles Rams (13-3) Saturday night in the Divisional Round. Kickoff in the Los Angeles Coliseum is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. (ET). The game will be broadcast on FOX.
The Cowboys defense was impressive last week against the Seahawks, especially against the run. Dallas held Seattle’s league best rushing attack to a pathetic 73 yards on 24 attempts. Against the Rams the strategy should stay the same; the Cowboys defense must stop Todd Gurley, Los Angeles’ All-Pro running back. Gurley missed the last two games of the regular season due to knee inflammation, but he was just taken off the team’s official injury report and is set to play Saturday. Limiting Gurley is crucial for Dallas. In the Rams’ three losses this season, Gurley has not run for over 70 yards. Additionally, much of Los Angeles’ offensive success is based off the play action passing game. Without a running game, quarterback Jared Goff has struggled to carry the offense, especially on third down and in the red zone. The question is: will Sean McVay’s coaching and creativity calling plays outweigh Goff’s struggles?
On offense, the Cowboys are presented with the difficult task of stopping the Rams’ defensive line. This unit features two first round picks: defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald, who is in the midst of a historic season. The unanimous All-Pro set a record with the most sacks by a defensive tackle (20.5) which was just two sacks away from tying Michael Strahan’s single season sack record. What’s worse, the Cowboys offense has allowed the most sacks in the NFL this season.
In order to drive the ball down the field against the Rams defense, Dallas must accomplish several goals: feed Zeke, get rid of the ball quickly and move Dak Prescott outside of the pocket. Despite the Rams’ strong defensive line, they are relatively weak against the run, ranking 23rd and allowing a league high 5.1 yards per carry average. If Ezekiel Elliott can have as much success against the Rams as he did last week against the Seahawks, the Cowboys can dictate the flow of the game by dominating time of possession. Furthermore, Prescott cannot hold on to the ball for a long time; he must get rid of quickly before Los Angeles’ tenacious pass rush gets to him and forces turnovers, as Nick Foles did against the Rams in Week 15. Moreover, Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett must create a game plan that incorporates Dak Prescott’s mobility. Prescott’s most important play from last week’s game was a successful quarterback draw on third and fourteen which set Dallas up with first and goal on Seattle’s one yard line. Because of this play, they scored a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal, putting them ahead by two scores. Not only is Prescott a stellar passer on the run, but having Prescott use his legs will also provide him with more protection from the Rams’ strong and fast defensive linemen
Prediction: The Cowboys defense will step up against the rushing game for the second week in a row, limiting Todd Gurley to 50 yards. However, Sean McVay will make the necessary adjustments on offense at halftime to strengthen their passing game and put up points. Ezekiel Elliott will reach the 100 yard mark for a second consecutive playoff game, but Dak Prescott’s track history of poor away performances and kicker Brett Maher missing field goals will be the Cowboys’ weakness. Dallas’ inability to continually convert on third down and in the red zone will cost them the victory in Los Angeles to go to the NFC Championship game.
Final score: Los Angeles Rams: 24 Dallas Cowboys: 23