FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys have for the most part avoided ambiguity in the first three weeks of the season – but that doesn't look like that will be the case on Sunday.
One unavoidable component of this matchup will be the unknown, particularly in regard to injuries. The Cowboys have six players listed as "questionable" heading into this game against the Rams, and none of those is more important than Sean Lee.
So that's where I'll start this week's Final Thoughts, as I try to figure out what the Cowboys will look like in Week 4:
- I hate riding the fence in life, but in the case of Sean Lee and his availability for this game, I am afraid it's something I'll have to do. The odds are currently at 50/50 whether Lee will play against the Rams, and that final call will come from the medical staff. As painful as it might be for the defense, the athletic trainers are always going to have the best interest of the player in mind, along with the big picture going forward. If Lee is unable to play, Justin Durant should be in the starting lineup with Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson with Kyle Wilber as the primary backup. Just in case they need an extra body, former linebacker Keith Smith worked some on the scout team to knock the rust off. The Rams are primarily an "11" personnel team, so dressing four linebackers should not be a concern due to how much nickel and dime the Cowboys will play to match. This is a matchup for defensive backs more than linebackers.
- It appears that Chaz Green didn't practice with the team on Friday due to a sore hip. If Green is unable to go -- and I am honestly not sure of his status -- Jonathan Cooper will take his spot with the first unit. Cooper has been inactive the first three weeks and may now be responsible for having to deal with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Cooper is not as good an athlete as Green, but he's just as powerful so that should not be an issue. Where this could affect the Cowboys scheme-wise is how they use their guards on the edge of the defense, in space or when they trap. Cooper will not be as clean on those pulls as Green, so we could see Scott Linehan become more right-handed in his running game, choosing to work behind Zack Martin and La'el Collins until he gets a read on how Cooper is playing.
- I believe that Nolan Carroll will be active for this game, but with the way Anthony Brown played in Denver and Arizona, I think Brown will get the start over him. Carroll could also be behind Jourdan Lewis, as well, when it comes to how they line up. Just a guess, but look for Carroll to be insurance if something happens with Scandrick, Brown or Lewis in the games the remainder of the season.
- If you noticed the Arizona game last Monday, Rod Smith was the first back off the bench over Alfred Morris. It might be only one game, but I have a feeling we might see more of that in the upcoming game against the Rams. Smith has always had the ability to run and catch the ball out of the backfield, but the question has been: can he pass protect? The staff must feel like he can handle that responsibility and not be a liability.
- When you play a team like the Rams, that has some really good pass rushers, you have to do things to try and help your teammates. Quarterbacks have to be careful not to get in a rhythm, which allows those rushers to get a jump off the ball. The film shows the Rams are an anxious group when it comes to getting off the ball. Quarterbacks like to play with the snap count, especially at home. Dak Prescott is smart enough to realize that if he can steal a free five yards or take a shot on a free play that he needs to try. He has a veteran offensive line and tight ends, so it is something worth considering.
- I like the matchups for the Cowboys offensively, throwing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott. Scott Linehan has tried to work the screen game with him with some limited success, but I think they can take advantage of the Rams' linebackers in this game. I would not be one bit surprised to see Elliott working more up the field to see if they can keep up with him in space. Elliott can be a weapon with the ball in his hands and the Rams have shown some issues on tape in coverage.
- It has been a strange start to the season for the Rams defensively. Success against them has come in a couple of different ways. They're allowing an alarming rate of big plays. Through three games they've allowed 15 plays of 20-plus yards -- and that hasn't mattered whether it's on the ground or through the air. To make matters worse, they're near the bottom of the league when it comes to red zone scoring. Exactly 66 percent of their opponents' trips have resulted in touchdowns and this can be traced to their inability to tackle well as a unit. They're last in the league when it comes to allowing yards after the catch. The Cowboys have the personnel to make them pay if they continue this trend.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Cooper Rush, RB Alfred Morris, OG Jonathan Cooper, DE Charles Tapper, LB Sean Lee, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Chidobe Awuzie.