Each week, Lindsay Draper goes Behind the Enemy Lines to discuss what's happening with the upcoming opponent. This time, we caught up once again with Rams insider Myles Simmons (@JMylesASimmons) to answer some questions about the Rams, who are coming off a first-round bye after finishing the year 13-3.
1. People always make a big deal out of the playoff bye week and how it affects teams. The Rams went 2-2 in December, but they finished the season with two wins before taking the week off. What's the overall mood around the team with so much time between games?
I think the mood has been pretty good, honestly. It's interesting, the Rams undoubtedly were a bit sluggish after their bye week. But there does seem to be a different kind of energy this week. That might be because the team had a couple practices last week to sharpen their skills. And there's a significant difference in regular-season football and postseason football. But after the early exit this team had last year, I think there's a real desire to make sure that doesn't happen again.
2. It looks like Todd Gurley will be back in the lineup on Saturday night after missing two games. He's obviously a dynamic runner, but how exactly does he impact the way the Rams call their offense, and how does he match up with the Cowboys' run defense?
Much like the Cowboys and Zeke, the Rams run their offense through Todd Gurley. The threat of him running the ball is what makes the play-action game so effective, and Jared Goff has had a lot of success with that in the two years he's played under Sean McVay. Though I will say, I was a bit surprised when the Rams went so run heavy even without Gurley in the lineup in Week 16 and Week 17. But that's mainly because C.J. Anderson came in and did so well against two teams that were, frankly, lower-quality opponents.
This week, though, the Rams definitely have to be aware of how good the Cowboys have been at stopping the run. That might mean Goff has to hit some passes early to get Vander Esch and Smith a bit further from the line of scrimmage. But when the Rams have been successful over the last two years, Gurley has been the centerpiece of the offense. I'd expect that to be the case this week if the Rams are to win, too.
3. The Rams employ the best defender in football in Aaron Donald, not to mention a host other talents like Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. But the stats say their defense has had its share of struggles this season. Is that simply a byproduct of keeping up with such an explosive offense, or is there something more at work?
It's hard to say. It's seemed like throughout the year, the Rams have gotten key defensive plays when they've needed them. Kansas City scored 51 points, but the Rams had five takeaways in that game — including a pair of interceptions on the Chiefs' last two possessions. Aaron Donald made 9.5 sacks in the fourth quarter, which is a huge part of that, too. It's almost as if the defense is a bend-but-don't-break unit, but it's also had some really strong games this year. And the team has definitely been better on defense since cornerback Aqib Talib returned against Detroit. But Sean McVay always says the truest measurement of performance is consistency, and the Rams could certainly be more consistent on defense.
4. For all the talk about Todd Gurley, Jared Goff has 32 touchdowns and two 1,200-yard receivers. How has Goff progressed in Year 3, and how has the Rams' passing game developed this year — especially since the loss of Cooper Kupp?
I think Cooper Kupp is one of the more underrated losses of the season for any contending team because was an essential part of the offense. And honestly, if he hadn't gone down, there's a significant chance he could've been a third 1,000-yard receiver for L.A., since he tied for the team lead with six touchdown receptions even though he played only eight games.
But Goff has definitely shown considerable progress this year. It was a while ago, but he played one of the best games by a QB I've ever seen against the Vikings this year. He's also had some downs — like the games against Detroit and Chicago. But I think he bounced back in a significant way against the Cardinals and 49ers. The numbers weren't off the charts, but even his ball placement was much better than it had been in the previous few games.
Still, knowing how good the Cowboys are against the run, this is a game where he'll have to step up and be great.