By Bailey Montgomery
Divisional Round Preview and Prediction
Dallas Cowboys vs Los Angeles Rams
Saturday is approaching quickly as this divisional round matchup looms. The Dallas Cowboys come off an exciting victory last Saturday night over Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks 24 to 22. While the Boys came away with a victory, they did not come away completely unscathed as wide receiver Allen Hurns was lost to a gruesome leg injury, which puts him on the Injured Reserve for the rest of the season. Cole Beasley, Maliek Collins, and Blake Jarwin also were banged up in Saturday’s games, and have been listed in the injury report as questionable for Saturday’s contest. In place of Hurns, wide receiver Lance Lenoir has been activated from the practice squad. This is the second stint on the active roster for Lenoir, who is a second year receiver out of Western Illinois University. Lenoir has mainly filled in on special teams for this squad, although he has shown the ability to play the receiver spot in camp and in the Pre-Season.
For Los Angeles, this Rams team has had plenty of time to rest up and get healthy, specifically for their top running back Todd Gurley II. Gurley is the featured offensive player for this high-powered offense that has shown the ability to light up the scoreboard. Gurley has been hindered by a knee injury, but was updated to a Full Participant for Thursday’s practice, and he is expected to play on Saturday night.
This Rams offense also features a high-powered passing attack, led by young quarterback Jared Goff. Goff has had a good year under center for the Rams, leading them to a 13-3 record and the number 2 seed in the NFC. Goff has completed 64.9 percent of his throws during the 2018 campaign to go with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. These stats are good for a 101.1 passer rating out of Goff. While Goff started off the year hot, he has completed just under 60 percent of his passes since week 12. Part of this could be due to the absence of star receiver Cooper Kupp, who was lost in Week 10. The health of Gurley may have also had an impact, as teams could commit to stopping Goff and the passing attack first during his absence.
Goff’s main targets in the passing game are Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, both players that have had successful years in LA. Cooks has brought in 80 receptions for over 1200 yards on the year, proving to be a big play threat week in and week out. Cooks yards per reception rate in 2018 is slightly above his career average (14.3) at 15.1 yards per reception this season. Robert Woods also provides huge big play potential, as he also averages over 14 yards per reception. Woods has hauled in 86 catches for 1219 yards and 6 touchdowns. Stepping up in the absence of Cooper Kupp has been second year wideout Josh Reynolds. Reynolds is averaging nearly 7 receptions per game since Kupp has left the lineup. Reynolds is another guy within this high powered offense that can score at any point, averaging 13.9 yards per reception. While this offense may not feature a true “elite” receiver, they feature multiple receivers that can really cause havoc on a defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Aaron Donald is an absolute nightmare for any offensive line. This Dallas O-Line has struggled to protect Prescott at points this year, and Aaron Donald has been as disruptive (if not more disruptive) than any other defensive player in the league. Donald has registered 20.5 sacks on the year, and finding a way to slow him down will be a huge factor come Saturday night.
While this defense features one of the best players on that side of the ball in the NFL, they are last in the league in rushing yards per carry. I look for this Dallas offense to run it down their throats, especially early, to start off this game. This team plays physical, and I expect them to challenge this Los Angeles defense.
Matchups to Watch
Aqib Talib / Marcus Peters VS Amari Cooper - For this passing attack, there is no secret that Amari Cooper is the guy that is the catalyst. Cooper’s route running and playmaking ability has completely changed the forecast for this season, and has significantly helped Prescott. I think Cooper has not only helped out Dak, but he has freed up some running room for Zeke, who has thrived since his arrival. I am anxious to see how Wade Phillips decides to play Cooper. I think we will see a mix of the two corners, but if Cooper has some success against Peters, they may travel Talib across the field to stay with him. I look for Cooper to have a big game against this Rams secondary.
Todd Gurley II VS Cowboys Linebackers - This will be a big matchup to watch on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys. Gurley has been one of the best backs in the league since he came into the league, and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry this season. These linebackers for the Cowboys are instinctive, quick, and they have a little swagger to their game right now. This defense held the league’s number one rushing attack in Seattle to under 80 rushing yards last Saturday, so we will see if that success can be continued. Slowing down Gurley will, in my opinion, be the number one key to winning this game.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 27, Los Angeles Rams 23.
My gut feeling has been good all week. I am not underestimating this Los Angeles Rams team, but I just love the mojo that Dallas has right now. This team has some toughness, some swagger, and confidence to their game. I think that Zeke has a huge game for this offense, going for over 150 total yards and a score. I think Dak will take care of the ball, and make just enough plays late to win this game. I do look for Goff and the LA receivers to have some success, but I think Marinelli’s “Bend but don’t break” mentality will make this Rams offense settle for some field goals. At the end of Saturday night, I think this Cowboys team finds a way to go to it’s first NFC Championship game since the 1995 season, winning 27-23.
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