LOS ANGELES – Clichés are clichés for a reason.
And if you found a list of the Top 10 football clichés, you can rest assured this one would be atop the list.
Games are won and lost in the trenches.
Yep, true to form once again. This game was decided in the trenches – or the line of scrimmage.
That's exactly where the Rams won it and the Cowboys lost it.
Every football coach from the junior high ranks to an NFL playoff game will tell you that you must run the ball and stop the run to have any kind of success.
When you do both you have a great chance to win. And when you can't do either, well, that's ball game.
Or in this case, season over.
The Cowboys' season ended here at the Memorial Coliseum Saturday night because the Rams were simply a better football team, especially in one of the most fundamental elements of the sport – blocking.
The Rams were two steps ahead of the Cowboys every time they lined up to run the ball. And all week, the big talk concerned Todd Gurley and his knee. Would it be able to play? Would he be 100 percent?
Well, did it matter. Almost seemed like C.J. Anderson was more effective. But it really didn't matter which back Jared Goff has handing the ball to. Both Anderson and Gurley were simply gashing this defense left and right.
And it wasn't just the defensive line. Sure, there were holes that any back could've run through, but the one thing that has made this defense elite this year was the stellar play of the linebackers. Well, that wasn't the case on this night.
As good as Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have been, and will be for this defense in the future, that just wasn't the storyline for this game. Not putting blame on any one player, or two players, or even a position group. As defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said afterward, "it was all of us. Coaches and players. We just weren't good enough."
And he's right, the defense wasn't even close to good enough. But what the Cowboys' defensive line couldn't do this year, the linebackers usually cleaned it up. But it was dirty all night long and the Cowboys certainly couldn't find a mop.
It's kind of ironic that this defense allowed only three 100-yard rushers in the first 17 games of the season, including the first round of the playoffs. And against the Rams, they allowed not one, but TWO rushers of over 100 yards.
Still, through all of the mess, the Cowboys were only down eight and desperately needed a stop. It had to be a three-and-out, something the defense hadn't done all game. But after two stops on Gurley and Anderson netted just three yards, here they were needing the biggest stop of the game and they couldn't prevent Jared Goff from getting to the corner for an 11-yard gain? Fitting, that arguably the slowest runner the Rams trotted out there ended up finishing off the Cowboys and their season.
But let's not just point fingers at one side. As easy as it was for the Rams to run it, it was 10 times harder for the Cowboys to do the same.
Sure, Ezekiel Elliott won the NFL rushing title, edging out Gurley, who was limited in the last month of the season. But Zeke only racked up 47 yards against a Rams defense who made sure he wasn't going to beat them.
Even the few times he broke free for 11 yards or 15, Zeke was fighting off defenders with stiff-arms and sometimes just lowering his head and ramming through defenders for the toughest yards of the season.
Afterward, Jason Garrett said the Rams were committed to stopping Zeke at all costs. And that's really where the problem is here. When teams take out the running game, there has to be consequences and there just weren't on this night.
Dak Prescott made a few plays with his arm, but the passing game wasn't dynamic. And that's really nothing new. This hasn't been a dynamic passing attack all season, but against that Rams' front with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, it had to be.
That's the only way you can beat the Rams when they're stuffing the line of scrimmage the way they did. You have to throw your way out of those situations, and the Cowboys couldn't do it.
And trust me, that's going to be talked about all season. For all the grit and determination Prescott plays with, the offense has to be able to take what is there and make defenses pay for loading the box. Some games, the Cowboys have done that. This one wasn't one of them.
But that topic is for another time. I really don't think this is the best offense for Dak and his skill-set and only time will tell if the Cowboys decide to make those kind of changes.
Personally, I think Dak needs to be able to run the ball way more than he does. Sometimes, he doesn't take off when it's there, but other times, the play isn't designed for him to run. And that's the kind of quarterback he is. He's a running quarterback who can make plays with his legs and his arm. It simply can't be an afterthought and it felt like that was the case, especially early in this game.
Really when you think back to the only two losses the Cowboys have suffered here in the second half of the season, both of them were about the same. Sure, the didn't get shut out this time, but they couldn't sustain anything offensively. And on the other side, they had no answers to stop the run.
I guess if you want to say that's the blueprint to beat the Cowboys, there you go.
Run the ball and stop the run.
That's how you beat the Cowboys – and probably every other football team from the Pop Warner league to the NFL playoffs.