We're on to the next one.
The Cowboys are on a short week, so they're already ahead of me in their preparations. But I've spent the last two days watching the Rams and getting my own game plan ready.
As we dive into preparations for the divisional round, here are the three names you're going to want to know. Two of them are pretty obvious, as usual, but then we've got a third, lesser-known guy to consider.
Here's what you need to know:
Nemesis: DT Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is one of the best defensive players in the league, regardless of the position. If you don't account for him correctly, he will disrupt your entire game plan. He primarily will line up as the under tackle or three-technique in their scheme. You will occasionally see him line up at defensive end opposite Ndamukong Suh in their sub packages.
Speed is the name of the game with Donald. His explosive first step makes him difficult to handle. He plays into the blocker so quickly that he makes it hard to get hands on him. He had some snaps in the game last season against the Cowboys where he was able to knock Zack Martin off balance due to this quickness.
Donald is short in height and he's able to use that to his advantage. He's one of the best leverage players in the league and when he gets under a blocker, he generally wins. He is always looking to win off the edge. He wants to get his arm over the blocker on the first step, then redirect to the ball.
One of his most impressive traits is that he doesn't lose sight of the ball, which you'd think would be a problem for him -- but that's not the case at all. When he sees it, he's gone. He is explosive when it comes to finishing the play, so he can really close some ground from the backside when running.
The key for these Dallas blockers in stopping Donald is the ability to maintain contact with him. He is most dangerous when he plays on the move. So if you take away his movement and make him have to fight blocks, you can frustrate him. He wants to win on that first step, so if you can take that away from him you have a better chance to block him.
Weapon: RB Todd Gurley
If there is a running back that is similar to Ezekiel Elliott, it is Todd Gurley. As much I loved Elliott coming out of the draft, I had the same feelings for Gurley. Both are complete backs and that's the first trait I look for when evaluating the position.
The best thing that could have ever happened to Gurley's career was the hiring of Sean McVay. Gurley now has a coach that understands how to use him to maximize his talents. Gurley can beat you in so many different ways, and McVay makes sure that's the case.
The Rams have size across their offensive line, but they don't block like the Colts. They tend to be push/shove blockers, which allows Gurley to patiently pick and choose where he wants to attack the hole.
He reminds me of another Rams running back named Eric Dickerson in his running style. He takes the ball, glides for a step or two -- then explodes through the hole as tacklers bounce off him. Gurley shows tremendous lower body power and strength. Like Elliott, he tends to finish forward. There are not too many snaps where he gets knocked back or held to a negative gain.
Gurley is also a big part of the Rams' passing game. Sean McVay creates opportunities for him to receive the ball. They call routes for him where they use other receivers and tight ends to pick for him and then drag him across the formation. He scored a touchdown against the Packers on a similar design. He made a catch against the Cowboys last year that broke the game open for the Rams. You have to be ready for him lining up all over the formation.
Under the Radar: TE Gerald Everett
Tyler Higbee is listed as the first tight end for the Rams, and he played well last season when these two clubs met. But the guy that worries me the most at the position is Gerald Everett.
Everett is a very good athlete. He shows impressive playing speed and foot quickness. He plays with a burst – just like he did at South Alabama. There is lateral quickness and separation in his routes. For a guy that's a little lighter in the weight department, he will surprise you with his upper body strength. Everett will get into defender and snap his hips through the block in order to get movement. Most of his blocks come on the move.
He shows outstanding balance not only as a blocker, but as a route runner, as well. He can adjust easily on the move and can secure his man. He knows he's undersized but works hard to finish his blocks. He can get movement with his positioning. He plays like a receiver when it comes to his release. He gets up the field in a hurry. Works well in tight spaces, especially in the red zone. Hands are solid. Wide catch radius. He doesn't miss many opportunities to receive the ball.
For a young player, he has also shown the ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. He can avoid tacklers in the open field. Everett doesn't let the lack of size or weight keep him from doing his job well. He is a small school player that has made the jump into the league and hasn't missed a beat during the transition.