Last Updated: 2017-08-30
NFL Preseason Week 1
Matchup: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Date/Time: August 12, 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Dallas -2.5
With one preseason game down and four more to go, the Dallas Cowboys are road favorites against the Los Angeles Rams for Saturday night’s game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was a busy weekend for the Cowboys, who honored owner Jerry Jones during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton after playing in the annual Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams will be taking the field for the first time, hence the small line favoring the Cowboys over at DSI Sportsbook.
That’s not the only thing driving the price. The Rams have a new head coach, as former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay makes his debut wearing the HC headset. Wins and losses aren’t really part of McVay’s job description this season, since the Rams need a lot of work, but clear evidence of development from Jared Goff, the first overall pick in 2016, is most definitely at the top of the list. With last year’s starter Case Keenum out of the picture, this is now Goff’s offense, since Sean Mannion and Dan Orlovsky shouldn’t present much of a threat. For the Cowboys, it’s just about staying healthy and staying out of the news, after Ezekiel Elliott and Lucky Whitehead made noise for all the wrong reasons this summer.
Jason Garrett wasn’t happy during Monday’s practice and he wasn’t particularly happy during the first half of his team’s first preseason game. Blaine Gabbert led the Cardinals right down the field with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Later in the quarter, following a Dallas three-and-out, Gabbert once again marched the Cardinals 64 yards in seven plays, including a third-and-long completion to keep the drive alive. The Cowboys eventually won 20-18. Kellen Moore was 12-of-17 for 182 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Central Michigan product Cooper Rush was 9-of-18 for 87 yards and a score. Those two should play a big role again, with Dak Prescott’s reps limited this week. Prescott will likely make a cameo appearance for a series or two, but the majority of the game will go to Moore and Rush, who had a chance to work out the kinks last week. Alfred Morris was effective for six yards per carry on his seven tries. The Cowboys had good balance with 35 pass attempts and 37 rushing plays.
The Cowboys did manage a couple of sacks on Cardinals quarterbacks, but you can bet that the regular season second-teamers have a chip on their shoulders this week after giving up a couple of first-quarter touchdowns. As it is, the Cowboys are trying to figure some things out on the defensive line. Dallas also has a revamped secondary. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, and JJ Wilcox all left in the offseason. Dallas could wind up being pretty young in the secondary. Chidobe Awuzie, a second-rounder out of Colorado, has a big chance to impress during camp. Anthony Brown opened eyes last season and carried it over with a couple tackles, including a TFL, and a sack in the opener from his cornerback position. Byron Jones had five tackles in the HOF Game and big things are expected in his third season.
This will be a good test for Jared Goff in the Sean McVay offense. The Cowboys have some young talent in the secondary and it seems to be trending in the right direction, but this is still a group that can be beaten. A lot of the pieces are in place for the offense. The Rams have a very good offensive line with Rob Havenstein, Greg Robinson, Rodger Saffold, and new left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Todd Gurley is a quality back coming off of a down year post-ACL surgery. Pharoh Cooper seems like a player to watch for the Rams with McVay and his creativity. All of this is contingent on Goff looking like an NFL quarterback. We’ll see Goff, Mannion, and Orlovsky all in the mix on Saturday, but we could see some timing issues with a new head coach, especially without last year’s top target, Kenny Britt.
On the defensive side, the Rams are also going through some changes. Longtime NFL defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is a great hire to maximize the talent on this team. Joe Barry also did some excellent things with the Washington Redskins as their defensive coordinator. The Rams shouldn’t face a full onslaught from the Cowboys, who will limit reps for Prescott and Elliott. Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley appear to be sitting out based on the depth chart released on Monday, which is an important element because the Cowboys have a strong power running attack.
The Cowboys have not been very good in the preseason. Over the last three years, Jason Garrett is just 2-10 in the exhibition part of the year with a 4-8 ATS record. Sean McVay is making his debut as a head coach. The Cowboys were in the Hall of Fame Game in 2013 under Garrett’s watch and lost outright to Oakland as a 1.5-point favorite. Last year’s HOF Game was cancelled. In 2015, the Steelers lost as a pick ‘em to Jacksonville after losing to Minnesota in Canton. The Vikings were an easy winner at home over Tampa Bay as a 3.5-point favorite, but Mike Zimmer is a big believer in the preseason.
Free Pick: Dallas Cowboys -2.5
Given what Jason Garrett saw in the Hall of Fame Game and how he handled practice early in the week, he wants to see a crisper, stronger performance from his team. Rookie head coaches usually want to go out there and make a big statement in their debuts, but there are a lot of moving parts on this offense. The defense is going through a chance under Wade Phillips and the Cowboys have experienced backups at most positions.