ARLINGTON, Texas –The game plan for the Cowboys going into their matchup with the Rams was standard procedure: They wanted to run the ball, take advantage of their dynamic running back, and exhaust their opponent as the game went on.
That plan was executed, but unfortunately, the Rams were the ones executing it. By the time the game was over it seemed that Todd Gurley was the all-purpose, dynamic running back who was the biggest difference maker.
The game began about how the Cowboys would have hoped. The Rams didn't look ready to contend with a full game's worth of Ezekiel Elliott, who had 45 yards in the first quarter alone. The Cowboys dominated the time of possession 10:37 to 4:23.
"We only had one possession in the first quarter," Gurley, who had just 14 yards in the first quarter, admitted. "Dallas was doing a great job."
But the Rams defense didn't get tired, and the Cowboys' run game was far less effective in the final three quarters. Elliott recorded only 11 rushing yards in the second quarter, 17 in the third quarter, and 12 in the fourth quarter.
"They did a good job on defense stopping us and their offense did a good job having long drives and running the time out," Elliott said.
In fact, even though the Cowboys scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, it was almost a complete role reversal in terms of style of play after the first quarter. Gurley had 27 rushing yards in the second quarter, 44 yards in the third quarter, and 36 yards in the fourth. He was becoming more and more effective as the game went on.
"Gurley's a pretty good back and I feel like we could have done a much better job of hitting our gaps," Tyrone Crawford said. "When they were doing no huddle, sometimes we got away from our assignments. And like Coach said during halftime, we were beating ourselves."
It might have felt *like the Cowboys were beating themselves, but it certainly *looked like Gurley was beating them. The third-year running back rushed for a 121 yards on top of being the Rams' leading receiver with 94 yards and a touchdown. Whenever the Cowboys tried to take momentum back, Gurley managed to convert another big play.
After the game, rookie safety Xavier Woods was asked if Gurley was the best running back he'd ever faced.
"Yeah, he's pretty good," Woods admitted. "[He's] a pretty good back."
It's rare for a running back to have 139 all-purpose yards and clearly be the second-best guy at his position in a game, but that was the case for Elliott on Sunday. Gurley accounted for 215 all-purpose yards. Perhaps more importantly, he got better as the game went on. The defense didn't figure him out. He figured out the defense.
"We knew it was going to be a pretty quick game," Gurley said. "We were going to run the ball. They were going to run the ball. The defense did a great job stepping up in the second half. We were able to execute."
A dominant running back does more than just get results; his first, second and third-down plays set the tone and affect the circumstances of each subsequent play. No team is more aware of that than the Cowboys. The punishing play of Elliott was the primary reason they won 13 games a season ago. For everything else that occurred in Sunday's 35-30 loss to the Rams, the Cowboys got a taste of their own medicine.
"As it went on, they were able to run the ball much too effectively," Jason Garrett said. "They were getting just too much, and they got themselves in some favorable third-down situations, and they kept those drives alive throughout."
Views of the Dallas Cowboys Week 4 game against the Los Angeles Rams at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.