The Los Angeles Rams have waited 371 days for January 12, 2019. After completing a terrific 11-5 season under first-year head coach Sean McVay, the Rams were one-and-done in the playoffs with a disappointing and frustrating 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It was the franchise’s first playoff game since the 2004 playoffs and it was an ending that left a bitter taste to fester for the entire offseason and 21 weeks of football from Week 1 of the Preseason until now.
The Dallas Cowboys survived and advanced over the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round, but now head out on the road, where things were a lot different over the course of the season. The Cowboys haven’t played in the NFC Championship Game since 1995 and can silence a lot of naysayers with a big effort out on the Left Coast in this one.
They’ll have to do so in a big underdog role. The Rams are favored by a touchdown early in the week with a total of 49. Pinnacle was the first sportsbook to make the leap to 7.5, while MyBookiehas spent most of Monday on 6.5. Most sportsbooks do have extra juice shaded to the side of the home team, as this is setting up as something of an early sharp vs. public split.
The Cowboys are taking some small, recreational bets, while the Rams are taking the money capable of adding juice in five-cent increments or even push the line up to 7.5.
Todd the Wet Sprocket
Todd Gurley should be full go this week for the Rams. The team’s most dynamic offensive player has been coddled a little bit late in the season, and with good reason. In the second half of the season, Gurley has only exceeded 20 carries once. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but only 3.3 yards per carry in Weeks 14 and 15 before he sat out the remainder of the season.
With Cooper Kupp out, there has been a dimension missing from the passing game. Kupp suffered his season-ending injury in Week 10. From Week 11 on, Jared Goff did throw 10 touchdown passes, but also threw six interceptions and completed less than 60 percent of his passes. The best weapon for Goff is a healthy Gurley to run the football.
Ezekiel Elliott’s collegiate career at Ohio State was filled with fans wishing that he got more touches. We don’t have to worry about that in the NFL. Zeke was fed 304 times for 1,434 yards and he wound up with 381 touches overall and 2,001 yards from scrimmage. He was fed 26 times on the ground and four times through the air in Dallas’s win over Seattle. It was Elliott’s eighth 100-yard game and third-highest rushing output of the season.
Against a Rams defense that ranks dead last in yards per carry allowed at 5.1, Elliott will get a ton of touches again. It will be interesting to see if Wade Phillips completely sells out against the run or respects Dak Prescott at all to throw the football.
Perhaps the closest comp for the Rams rush defense is Seattle, though Russell Wilson is a better player than Prescott. The Seahawks ran for 190 yards the first time and 273 yards the second time.
Making It Rayne
Did y’all know that Dak Prescott’s name is Rayne Dakota Prescott? He might want to switch from Dak to Rayne after how he’s made it rain since the acquisition of Amari Cooper. Cooper had 53 catches on 76 targets in nine games during the regular season with six touchdown grabs and 725 yards. He upped the ante with 106 yards on seven grabs last week.
Prescott had an 8/4 TD/INT ratio with a 62.14 percent completion rate in the first seven games without Cooper. He was sacked 23 times. Over the final nine regular season games, Prescott posted a 14/4 TD/INT ratio with a 71.25 percent completion rate. He was 22-of-33 for 226 yards, a touchdown, and a pick against the Seahawks. It wasn’t his best effort, but nobody outside of Cooper got open.
We basically have to view the Cowboys offense as “Pre-Amari” and “Post-Amari”. Post-Amari, the Cowboys have gone 8-2 and have scored 2.3 more points per game. They were 3-4 and had scored 20 points per game in the seven weeks before the bye.
On The Other Hand…
Week 17 hero Blake Jarwin is questionable with an ankle injury. The same affliction has Cole Beasley on the injury report. Allen Hurns will definitely not play after suffering a gruesome leg injury. Michael Gallup played all 16 games and only had 33 catches. The Cowboys are running out of bodies to help the running game.
Those concerns are going to be a big help for a Rams defense trying desperately to provide as much help to stop the run as possible.
Speaking of injuries, the bye week should help the Rams a ton in that regard. Offensive linemen like John Sullivan, Andrew Whitworth, and Rodger Saffold should all be in good shape to open holes for Gurley and CJ Anderson. The Cowboys, as a team that has relied heavily on the offensive line over the last several years, understand what they’re up against with better health in the trenches.
Red Zone Report
The Cowboys struggled in the red zone on offense for most of the season, but scored three touchdowns in four red zone trips against a Seahawks defense that had fared really well in that department. Dallas was 29th during the regular season at just 48 percent, but did a terrific job keeping the opposition from getting seven points. They ranked seventh in opponents’ TD%.
The Rams weren’t special on offense or defense inside the 20. On offense, the Rams had 80 trips inside the 20, which led the league by a decent margin, but only came away with 46 touchdowns. On defense, the Rams were just above the middle of the pack in 14th.
It will be a lot tougher for Amari Cooper to get open this week. Even though Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters didn’t turn in great seasons for the Rams, they’ll be able to match up better with Cooper than the Seahawks were because of the scheme that they play. The Rams will have to sell out against the run to some degree, but that will allow Talib and Peters to play physical against Cooper.
The Rams finally have a healthy Todd Gurley back and Sean McVay gameplanned for this Dallas defense twice a year as the offensive coordinator of the Redskins. The personnel has changed a little bit, but the scheme hasn’t changed all that much for longtime defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The best play on this game is to find a stray -6.5 on the Rams or wait and see if one pops up and then pounce. The Cowboys are a bit different with Cooper, but they are also +14 points on the season through 17 games and basically even in yards per play differential. There is a smoke and mirrors element to this team and the Rams are plenty good enough to expose them.
As far as the total goes, it seems like a pretty tight number that could swing either way, but the under seems like the better bet as both teams should run the football a fair amount here and keep the clock moving.