FRISCO, Texas – Three quick topics with the Cowboys (6-7) facing the most critical stretch of their season, and a familiar foe awaiting Sunday at AT&T Stadium:
the Cowboys' primary issue against the Rams in January is emerging as a strength for L.A. once again.
The Rams piled up 273 rushing yards in Dallas' 30-22 divisional-round loss, the most ever by a Cowboys opponent in a playoff game. C.J. Anderson, who accounted for 123 of those 273 and two touchdowns, is no longer on the Rams' roster.
Todd Gurley is – and the Rams are making a concerted effort to feed their star back in L.A.'s recent stretch of three wins in four games.
Gurley hadn't gotten more than 18 carries in the each of first eight games. In the Rams' three most recent wins (vs. Chicago, at Arizona, vs. Seattle) he had 25, 19 and 23 carries and ran for a touchdown in each game.
On the flip side…
Since dropping four of their last five games, the Cowboys have fallen from 11th in run defense (97.3 yards allowed per game) to 19th (132.3). It's not all from running backs, either. Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky combined for 106 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff doesn't present the same type of scrambling threat. But a healthy, involved Gurley stabilizes L.A.'s offense.
The Cowboys have now given up an average of 25.0 points in their last five games, including a modest 13 points from New England that proved to be enough in that nasty weather at Gillette Stadium.
"It's unacceptable. It's unacceptable," linebacker Jaylon Smith told reporters Monday. "We know the type of defense that we've been and that we want to continue to be. But you have to go out and execute."
That'll be essential Sunday against a Rams offense that has rediscovered balance and consistency the last couple of weeks.
this stat about Ezekiel Elliott is misleading.
Yes, Elliott has gone five straight games without 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career. Previously, three was his longest streak.
But Zeke is running as well as he has all season. After a two-game stretch below 50 rushing yards against the Vikings and Lions, Elliott has averaged 4.6 yards per carry during this three-game losing streak.
He has ripped off 30-yard runs in back-to-back weeks, his longest gains of the season. He had a 20-yard catch on a screen pass that set up an early touchdown against Buffalo on Thanksgiving.
Elliott now ranks fifth in rushing with 1,071 yards, 210 behind league leader Nick Chubb of the Browns. The offensive line is finding holes for him. He is showing explosiveness and decisiveness, hallmarks of his first four seasons in Dallas.
But the Cowboys haven't been able to get him involved enough lately. They have trailed by a combined score of 30-14 at halftime the last two games. He had a combined eight carries in the second half against the Bills and Bears.
What the Rams have done with Gurley lately, the Cowboys badly need with Elliott.
Operating at its best, this is a pick-your-poison offense. But the goal has never been for Dak Prescott to throw 40 times a game. He's averaging 46.6 attempts in the last five games.
Dallas always wants balance, but they can't feed Zeke if the game gets away from them early.
I Have No Idea…
if the NFL will ever decide to re-seed the playoffs based on overall record above division standing, but I don't think it will (or should) get much traction.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that altering the playoff format is not a league consideration, despite some outside unrest over the prospect of a current 6-7 team (the Cowboys or Eagles) getting a first-round home playoff game next month as a division champion.
I see why there have been cries for the NBA to throw out the East-West format and seed the top 16 teams based on record, regardless of conference affiliation. The West is a more challenging field year after year.
In the NFL, this just isn't a consistent issue. In the last 10 seasons, only two teams have won a division with a losing record: the 2014 Carolina Panthers at 7-8-1 and the 2010 Seattle Seahawks at 7-9. Only seven teams in that time period have won a division with fewer than 10 victories.
And, with regard to this year's Cowboys and Eagles: both these teams were in the tournament a year ago. Both have the talent to advance if they get in.
The question is, which can find their footing in these last three weeks of the regular season?