Spagnola: Rams Remake Of Old School Football


LOS ANGELES – Doggone it, someone should have said something before this game.

Like 33 years ago, Jan. 4, 1986, I saw the original film, Old School Playoff Football, out here in Southern California. Only that time the showing was at Anaheim Stadium, not the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Same darn thing. Cowboys-Rams, NFC Divisional Round playoff football, the Cowboys NFC East champs (10-6) meeting the L.A. Rams NFC West champs (11-5), the last of eight times these two teams had met in the playoffs.

The Rams won that game, basically slaughtering the Cowboys, the 20-0 score closer than that game really was. And as it turned out, was the last playoff game for the late Tom Landry, along with the Cowboys' last winning season and playoff appearance until 1991, six years later.

Still in my little brain is this image of Eric Dickerson running all over the Cowboys defense, up and down the field, totaling 243 of the Rams' 269 rushing yards, a Cowboys' opponent playoff record. The Cowboys defenders, complete with Hall of Famer Randy White, Ed "Too" Tall Jones, John Dutton, Everson Walls, Dennis Thurman, Jim Jeffcoat and Michael Downs, were helpless against the Rams running game.

So maybe seeing Dickerson on the Rams sideline here right before Saturday's kickoff was some sort of omen, as if the ghost of playoff past was about to rain on what had been an inspiring Cowboys' 2018 season parade. They had resurrected themselves from a 3-5 start to end up winning eight of their last night games, which included beating Seattle in that first-round playoff game.

Because here in a city where remaking old movies is a thing, I'll be, it happened again. The Rams, with 77,187 in the audience, maybe 20,000 of them here to cheer on the Cowboys, ran right over the Cowboys' No. 7 defense, the Cowboys' No. 5 run defense – the heart and soul of this team it could hang their hat on nearly every time they hit the field.

A Star Is Born has nothing on Rams Run Cowboys.

This time it took two of those Rams to do what Dickerson did on his own. Todd Gurley ran for 115 yards, 35 of them when he cruised through the Cowboys defense for a touchdown. Then, recently off-the-couch C.J. Anderson romped for another 123 yards and two touchdowns, both of those totaling a grand total of 2 yards.

Why, not since 2008, the final game at Texas Stadium, had the Cowboys allowed two running backs to each run for 100 yards in the same game (Baltimore's Willis McGahee and Ron McClain), and never in the playoffs. The Cowboys had only allowed three 100-yard rushers all season long, and then held Seattle's Chris Carson to just 20 yards rushing and the Seahawks to only 73 in the 24-22 playoff victory last week.

Well, the Rams, an appropriate name for what took place here, rammed the Cowboys for a total that included 73 again, only this time it was _273_, the most yards rushing the Cowboys had given up in any game since Chicago's 283 in 1984, and … and … allowing the Rams to reset the Cowboys' opponent playoff record they previously owned with four more yards.

Say it ain't so.

The Rams ran the ball so much, 48 times, you'd have thought we were watching the throwback 1984 Summer Olympics here at the Coliseum.

"If you can't stop the run, you can't win," Byron Jones flatly said.

Seemingly everyone seemed fixated all week long on the Rams' "Showtime" offense, their ability to sling the ball around with quarterback Jared Goff (No. 3 passing attack in the NFL) and top wideouts Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks (both 1,200-yard receivers), along with throwing the ball to Gurley. But if anyone had been listening, the first thing out of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's mouth this week was, _We have to stop the run. We have to stop Todd Gurley, because if we don't then that makes their play-action passing game go._

"We didn't get off blocks," Marinelli said, having to watch the Rams produce two 100-yard rushers for the first time in their playoff history as well. "We just didn't execute, players and coaches."

Such a humbling experience. And how about this, too: If we go back to that game 33 years ago, the Rams won with Dieter Blocker completing just 6-of-22 passes for 50 yards. Well, had you told me Goff's stat line would be, 15-of-28 for 186, no touchdowns and a QB rating of 74.4, I'd have guaranteed you the Cowboys had finally broken down that playoff door into their first NFC title game since the 1995 season.

And to think, the Rams did all this running out of their three-receiver sets, abusing the Cowboys two-linebacker nickel formation, and seemingly used the Cowboys' aggressive, penetrating nature up front against them, sort of what the Colts did in that 23-0 shellacking when they ran for an opponent regular season-high of 178 yards. Too many times the Cowboys defensive ends were getting up the field inside when the Rams were running outside. Too many times the Cowboys linebackers were getting blocked away or seemingly filling the wrong gap.

"They came off the ball and knocked us back," said defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard. "Take my hat off to them.

But even at that, even though the Rams hogged the ball for 36:13, totaled 459 yards, just 3 yards short of Houston's 2018 high against the Cowboys – though, needing overtime to do that – and even though the Rams scored on six of eight full possessions, missing one field goal and punting only once, here were the "Comeback Kids" fighting for another one of those storybook endings.

Look, as bad as it seemed, the Cowboys twice turned this into a one-possession game late in the fourth quarterback, mostly thanks to Dak Prescott completing 20-of-32 passes for 266 yards, one touchdown, a 1-yard rushing touchdown and a QB rating of 99.2. And there they were, down just 23-15, facing a third-and-14 at the Los Angeles 48-yard line, Prescott completing a 13-yard pass to Noah Brown at the conclusion of the third quarter.

So, fourth-and-1.5 at the L.A. 35-yard line, first play of the fourth quarter. Cowboys lined up with two receivers, two tight ends. Just hand the ball to the NFL's rushing king, Ezekiel Elliott. Right?

And I'll be, he gets stoned. No gain. Rams ball, and 12 plays, 65 yards later, Los Angeles pulled to a 30-15 lead.

Undaunted, here came the Cowboys again, converting a fourth-and-1 and a fourth-and 3 to drive the Cowboys to the Rams 1-yard line, where Prescott took it in from there, and with Brett Maher's kick, its 30-22, with 2:11 to play, the Cowboys with three timeouts and a two-minute warning to work with.

There was hope. Just needed a three-and-out to set up another one of those fashionable comebacks. But on third-and-7 at their own 28, Goff booted right and ran right past the Cowboys for 11 yards. That, my friends, was the ballgame, running the Cowboys right out of the playoffs.

"I think there's a little bit of a misperception about how the Rams play offensive football," a drained Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "It starts with the run. They do an outstanding job week-in and week-out, and we just didn't do a good enough job controlling the line of scrimmage, winning our gaps and tackling.

"Unfortunately for us, they were able to run the ball consistently throughout the ball game. They controlled the pace and the tempo of the game really because of that."

No kidding. The Rams went old school on the Cowboys. There was nothing new-age about what they did here as late Saturday afternoon turned into evening.

Why, they ran the ball 48 times. Forty-eight now, six more times than their regular-season high against Denver, and produced two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2001 – Marshall Faulk 183 and Trung Candidate 145 vs. Carolina.

In fact, the Rams had more rushing _attempts_ than Ezekiel Elliott had rushing _yards_ (47), also winning their gamble of selling out to stop Zeke, most times remaining in their standard 3-4 defense even when Dallas went three-wide, one of the reasons the Cowboys had six plays of at least 20 yards, including a 44-yarder to Michael Gallup to set up one touchdown at the 2-yard line and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, who also drew that 16-yard pass interference call in the end zone to set up another score.

But it just wasn't enough to offset the Rams running circles around the Cowboys defense.

Unfortunately, just like old times.