FRISCO, Texas – NFC Playoffs, Round 2: Cowboys-Rams, L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Got more shots than you can shake a stick at, so let's not dilly-dally around and get right to 'em.
· Last Time: These two teams met last year, fourth game of the season, Cowboys 2-1, Rams 2-1, the West Coasters already having scored 107 points in those three games. Rams won, 35-30, but for those with a short memory, this was not what you think. Also, of the guys on the Cowboys' 53-man roster at that time, 25 of them are no longer here. The Cowboys' offense got off to a fast start, scoring on their first four possessions and were poised to run the Rams right out of AT&T Stadium. One problem: After taking a 17-6 lead on the first three, and then forcing the Rams to punt, rookie returner Ryan Switzer recklessly tried to catch the ball in heavy traffic without signaling for a fair catch. He fumbled. Rams recovered at the Cowboys 18. And with the way the Cowboys were moving the ball – they scored a touchdown on the next possession – they likely would have taken a 24-6 lead. But . . . the Rams gained life, scoring a touchdown to close the Cowboys lead to 17-13. The Rams would score the next 19 points – one touchdown and four field goals – but the Cowboys nearly pulled into a 32-32 tie with 7:11 to play, only to have their successful two-point conversion canceled by a ridiculous holding call on center Travis Frederick. Rams ended up kicking a seventh field goal midway through the fourth quarter, and that was that. And get this, the Cowboys outgained the Rams 440 to 412. Dak Prescott's 252 yards passing was just three less than Jared Goff's. Really, the difference in the game was Gurley catching that little slant over the middle for a 53-yard touchdown, otherwise the Cowboys kept pace with the Rams' high-scoring offense. That fumble turned the entire complexion of the game around – the Cowboys season, too, in the end.
· Teeth Gritting: While the Cowboys are hoping for the best when it comes to assistant Kris Richard interviewing for head coaching jobs, they also somehow, someway would love to keep him. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggested tying him up in an undisclosed location while knowing Miami, Tampa Bay and the Jets were interviewing him this past Sunday. Joking . . . I think. And as for as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is concerned about his right-hand man, "He's a head coach, he just hasn't been hired yet," and if you ever spoken with Kris or heard him speak, yet is the operative word.
· Two Scoops: That's what the Cowboys should feed Zeke, the NFL's rushing king for the second time in three years. Get this: 11 of the Rams' 16 opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards, with Seattle a high of 273, Chicago 194 and Seattle again for 190. But then again, when it came to pass defense, Kansas City laid 448 yards on them, Minnesota 392, New Orleans 346 and Denver 297. And seven times the Rams yielded at least 30 points, giving up 45 to New Orleans and 30 to Philadelphia in losses and needing to score 54 to beat Kansas City by three, 42 to beat San Fran by four and 33 and 36 to beat Seattle by two and five respectively.
· Wide Concerns: Of all games for the Cowboys to head into with receiver concerns, it's this one. Obviously, they will be without Allen Hurns, placed on injured reserve after his gruesome lower leg/ankle injury requiring immediate surgery. Now Cole Beasley has missed the past two days of practice, and at this point, it's not looking good with kickoff three days away for the receiver with the most catches (65). Also, tight end Blake Jarwin has missed the past two days of practice with an ankle injury, and there is a chance the Cowboys go into the game with just two tight ends – Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers. And to think Jarwin had emerged as a nice target, catching 23 of his 30 receptions in the past five games. Now the good news is, if Beasley can't go, Tavon Austin has been able to practice on a limited basis the past two days, and when told he seemed to be moving pretty good at practice Wednesday, he said, "Oh yeah, getting better and better." Austin not only can man the slot, as can Amari Cooper, but if Beasley can't go then Austin would be available to return punts. And Lance Lenoir, replacing Hurns on the 53, also can return punts and man the slot, a camp favorite of Prescott's.
· Knock, Knock: Since the Cowboys last played and won an NFC title game, 1995, and then went on to win Super Bowl XXX, this will be the sixth time they are one win away from returning to the NFC title game. They have lost the other five times, in 1996 to Carolina, 2007 to the Giants, 2009 to Minnesota, 2014 to Green Bay and 2017 to Green Bay.
· Obscure Shots: The Cowboys have never in their playoff history won three consecutive playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, something they would be required to do for a reservation in Atlanta . . . Cowboys' last road victory in the playoffs occurred in the 1992 NFC title game, beating San Francisco, 30-20, to reach and win Super Bowl XXVII . . . But they have also won two NFC title games over the Rams at Memorial Coliseum, 37-7, that 1975 season, and 28-0, that '78 season . . . And the last of eight times the Cowboys have played the Rams in a playoff game (4-4) occurred that 1985 season, losing 20-0, and I still can see Eric Dickerson running up and down the field on the Cowboys defense, totaling 248 yards on 34 carries, along with scoring on touchdown runs of 55 and 46 – the Cowboys losing to Rams QB Dieter Brock, who completed all of six of 22 passes for a robust 50 yards, one interception.
· Final Shot: Of the 17 games the Cowboys have played (11-6), 13 of those have been decided by no more than one possession (eight points). The good news is the Cowboys have won 10 of them, meaning their only victory by more than eight points this year has been the 40-7 clobbering of Jacksonville. Besides that one, the Cowboys have won one game by a point, two games by two points, two games by three points, one game by six, three by seven and one by eight.
So, in these pressure-packed playoff games, Cowboys know pressure -- offense, defense and kicking game.