FRISCO, Texas – Heading into the weekend, here are my two biggest keys to determining a winner in Cowboys-Rams on Sunday afternoon.
The Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Sean McVay knows this Dallas defense after two seasons with the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys' record during that time was 3-1, but the Redskins put up some impressive numbers with Kirk Cousins at quarterback.
It is amazing what McVay has done with Jared Goff to this point in just his second season. McVay has installed an offense that is tailored to his strengths and abilities. McVay likes to put his quarterback on the move with play action passes in the form of waggles and boots, especially on first down. The Rams are only behind the Kansas City Chiefs when it comes to first down passing.
Where the Rams really hurt you is on those chunk passes downfield. Goff has eight completions between 21-30 yards, which is one better than Tom Brady. How well the Rams do on first down really sets them up for the rest of the series. We're all familiar with the issues the Cowboys have had offensively on third downs, especially when needing more than six yards. But the Rams have been just as bad, only converting that down and distance 15 percent of the time.
For the Cowboys to win this game, they're going to need to make Jared Goff play fast. When he gets behind in the down and distance, that's when you see his liabilities as a quarterback. The Cowboys have done a nice job of creating pressure in passing situations throughout games. They're second in the league in sacks by quarter, so if they can get Goff off schedule, they can limit his effectiveness.
The Los Angeles Rams Win If:
What has been surprising about the Rams through three games this season is how their defense has struggled in all areas. They've allowed an alarming number of 20-plus yard plays -- 15 to be exact. Meanwhile, the majority of the Dallas offense against Arizona came in the form of the big play. Five of those plays covered 20 or more yards, with the long of 53 yards to Brice Butler.
These Cowboys receivers will catch a break in facing this Rams secondary. Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman are good players -- but not of the quality of what they've faced in the first three weeks of the season. Separation should be available, but it's still a matter of these receivers going out there and taking it.
Like the Cowboys, the Rams can create pressure with their front. They're near the top when it comes to sacks, but because of yardage allowed on first down -- not to mention yards allowed after the catch – they have struggled.
Big plays have led to opponents scoring big in the previous two games. If the Cowboys are able to block this Rams defensive front, especially in the passing game, then their secondary could be in big trouble.
For them to win this game, the bottom line is that their secondary is going to need to be more of a factor. They're going to need to limit the Cowboys big plays, especially when Dak Prescott is throwing the ball.