GAME SET *WHAT: St. Louis Rams (0-5) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
WHEN: Sunday, 3:15 p.m. (CT) WHERE: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas TELEVISION: Fox Sports (Dick Stockton, John Lynch)*
Nick: The Cowboys really liked Rams left tackle Roger Saffold coming out of college. Saffold, a second-round pick of the Rams in 2010, has been better than solid on the left side of their line and figures to have his hands full with DeMarcus Ware, who has seven sacks in five games. Whether it's Sam Bradford or A.J. Feely under center, the blind side will need to be protected, especially if Ware is pressuring from that side.
Rob: The Rams' last-ranked run defense (163.0) might appear skewed because opponents have held the lead so often, but they're also allowing 5.2 yards per carry. The Cowboys' interior offensive line had their hands full with the Patriots' big tackles, but let's see if re-signed Montrae Holland, Phil Costa and Kyle Kosier have better success pushing the pile against Rams tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Josh: While he's hardly a household name, Rams pass rusher James Hall has had a little success in the league, finishing with 10.5 sacks last year. We'll see how Doug Free does against him following a fairly maligned start this year. If he's able to put some pressure on Tony Romo, it could lead to mistakes the Cowboys can't afford.
- Don't Forget...
Nick: The return of fullback Tony Fiammetta might actually help more than we're realizing. He is a true fullback and the Cowboys signed him for a reason. While John Phillips was a willing blocker, he is 6-6. Most battles in the trenches are won by staying low and that's why you just don't see many taller fullbacks like that. I think Fiammetta will bring a spark to a running game that desperately needs one.
Rob: Newly-acquired Rams receiver Brandon Lloyd isn't stepping into an entirely new scheme. Lloyd played in Denver for new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, so he should feel comfortable with a lot of their sets right away. He's the playmaking receiver St. Louis has lacked this season due to injuries.
Josh: Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams coach, is pretty familiar with Jason Garrett's offense and how to defend Tony Romo, because he was the architect of the New York Giants defense through 2008. It was his unit that tripped up the high-powered Cowboys in that NFC Divisional Playoff Game in 2007.
- Cowboys Win If:
Nick: The Cowboys win this game even if they limit themselves to just a few mistakes. It shouldn't take a mistake-free effort to earn a victory. Not to say they can turn the ball over several times, but they appear to be much better than the Rams. If the turnovers and penalties are kept to a minimum, and they don't give plenty of gifts to a needy St. Louis bunch, then Sunday shouldn't be a problem.
Rob: The run game picks up and quarterback Tony Romo has time to make plays downfield because Miles Austin and Dez Bryant can win routes on the outside. It would be a tall order for St. Louis to outscore the Cowboys when they're clicking, particularly if Sam Bradford can't play or be himself. And, say it with me now, no turnovers. Remember the 34-14 disaster in 2008? They handed St. Louis four extra possessions in that game.
Josh: Everyone predicts a Cowboys win provided they don't turn the ball over too many times, but Dallas still has to go make the plays. They can't sleepwalk into this one. So long as they aren't sucker-punched early, they should be able to outlast the Rams.
- Rams Win If:
Nick: If Steven Jackson becomes a big factor in this game, it will likely mean the Rams are either staying close, or he's making big plays – or both. The Cowboys have been good against the run but if Jackson and the Rams exploit them and it gives the quarterback another viable weapon to use, then it makes their entire offense better. Jackson sparked the Rams the last time they played Dallas back in 2008, and if he's anything close to that this time, it could have a huge effect.
Rob: They create some extra possessions, as mentioned earlier, and if they can keep things close to establish some semblance of offensive balance with Steven Jackson. He's their best offensive player, but he can't be much of a factor if the Rams fall behind early.
Josh: They've got to get turnovers and score on them, or at least set themselves up in scoring position. That, or some big plays from their special teams unit. The Rams haven't gotten much done offensively this year, but you can never totally dismiss an NFL team putting it together for one game.
- Gut Feeling
Nick: I'm sensing a blowout here. I just think the Cowboys will take out their frustrations against the Rams this week. St. Louis just seems overmatched completely. Healthy again on both sides of the ball, I see the Cowboys putting up some points on offense and keeping a Rams team that has just four touchdowns this year in check as well. Something tells me this 11-game streak of games decided by four points or less will end in a big way.
Rob: Got a sense this is a very ticked-off team coming off yet another close loss. This is no trap game; the Cowboys realize the playoffs might be fading away by late October if they fall to 2-4. Always have to be wary of a winless team because sooner or later they're due. A little like the Detroit game, I can see the Cowboys building an early lead, but unlike the Detroit game I can see them holding it on the ground with DeMarco Murray, Tashard Choice and maybe even Phillip Tanner.
Josh: I keep hearing that the Cowboys play up or down depending on the competition, but I don't think that is necessarily accurate. They've played some pretty good football teams in New England, Detroit, Washington, San Francisco and the Jets. I expect all of those teams to at least be in the playoff hunt until late December. This will be the first bad team the Cowboys have played, and I think they'll make them look like it. That, combined with the Texas Rangers shelling the Cardinals to go up 3-1 in the World Series later that evening, should bring good times in Arlington.