Behind a relentless rushing attack and timely defense, the Rams defeated the Cowboys, 30-22, in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Los Angeles ran for 273 yards and racked up 459 total yards, pushing Dallas around at will during certain stretches of the game. C.J. Anderson led all rushers with 123 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. Todd Gurley had 115 yards on 16 carries with a score in his return from a knee injury.
Even quarterback Jared Goff got in on the act, running for 11 yards on third-and-7 with two minutes to play to seal the Rams’ win.
Los Angeles stormed out of the gate, scoring on each of its first four drives to take a 20-7 lead. Even as Dallas clawed back in the second half — Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott each scored on 1-yard runs — the Rams answered. Its defense forced a turnover on downs at its own 35-yard line to open the third quarter, then the offense drove 65 yards in 12 plays over seven minutes of game time for an Anderson touchdown.
The Rams will face the winner of Sunday’s Eagles-Saints matchup in the NFC championship game next week.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the game:
The Rams' running game was elite
Los Angeles’s ground attack was explosive Saturday night, and the Cowboys could not keep it under control. The Rams’ 273 rushing yards were the most in franchise playoff history. It’s also the first time in team history that two players have run for 100 yards in a playoff game.
(Check out the blocking from the wide receivers on Gurley’s touchdown run, too.)
The cohesion of the Rams’ offensive line was on full display. Los Angeles started the same five-man unit every game this season, and it showed. By halftime, the FOX broadcast crew reported that the Cowboys’ front seven was worn out. And in the second half, the Rams ran for another 103 yards.
An extra accolade for the L.A. offensive line: Goff was hit only once all game, and was never sacked.
The Cowboys really struggled on third down
Dallas was 1-for-10 on third down Saturday, and it played a big role in the team’s loss Saturday. That single conversion came during the Cowboys’s final drive of the first half, when Prescott hit Blake Jarwin for a 4-yard gain that put Dallas in field goal range. But three plays later on third-and-8, Prescott took an 8-yard sack that pushed the Cowboys out of scoring territory. Those three points would have been big, too, cutting the Los Angeles lead down to a single possession.
In the second half, Dallas faced third downs of 7, 11, 14, 8 and 3 yards. It missed on all of them. It’s no wonder the Rams held the ball for 13 minutes more than the Cowboys and ran 11 more plays.
The Rams defense needs to tighten the screws
For as great as the Rams looked at times, their defense presented a clear set of liabilities. Defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh dominated the Dallas offensive line. The Cowboys ran for only 50 yards, including 47 yards on 20 carries for Elliott. But late in the game, Los Angeles struggled to close out the Dallas offense.
That made for an impressive second half for Prescott, who was 12-of-19 for 179 yards in the final two quarters. The Rams got caught on a couple of costly pass interference penalties, including one by Aqib Talib in the end zone that set up a Cowboy score. And with Talib out of the game, Prescott found Michael Gallup wide open down the sideline to set up another score.
Prescott played a great game, but the Rams will see one of two Super Bowl MVPs — Philadelphia’s Nick Foles or New Orleans’s Drew Brees — next week in the NFC championship game. The defense will likely need to perform better for the Rams to advance to the Super Bowl.
Rams answer, again: Rams Coach Sean McVay stayed aggressive on fourth-and-goal inside the Dallas 1-yard line. After Jared Goff’s hard count did not draw the Cowboys' offside, McVay took timeout and sent his offense right back out onto the field. C.J. Anderson plowed through the left side of the line for a touchdown. It finished a 12-play, 65-yard drive that drained more than seven minutes off the game clock.
It’s Anderson’s second touchdown of the game, and the third on the ground for Los Angeles. The Rams' two primary ball carriers, Anderson and Todd Gurley, have 224 yards rushing between them. It’s the first time in franchise history the team has two 100-yard rushers in a playoff game. (30-15, Los Angeles, 7:16 fourth quarter)
Touchdown, Dallas: After Michael Gallup’s 44-yard over-the-shoulder catch on an apparent blown coverage by the Rams, Ezekiel Elliott pounded into the end zone from 1 yard out two plays later. The Cowboys converted the two-point conversion on a short pass from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper, bringing the deficit to one possession. (23-15, Los Angeles, 5:20 third quarter)
Rams take the lead: The Los Angeles offense is winning at the line of scrimmage on nearly every play. The Rams went 76 yards in nine plays before C.J. Anderson bowled over a couple of Dallas defenders for a 1-yard scoring run. Jared Goff connected with Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee for 16 and 11 yards, respectively, to put the Rams in scoring position. (13-7, Los Angeles, 7:00 second quarter)
Cowboys strike back: Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown catch and run to take an early lead over the Rams. Prescott found Cooper earlier in the drive for six yards on third-and-7 to the Los Angeles 49-yard line, and Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth down. Ezekiel Elliott converted with a five-yard run, plus a 15-yard penalty on the Rams' Marcus Peters. The next play, Cooper caught the pass from Prescott at the 18-yard line, then sprinted away from defenders to the end zone.
Dallas acquired Cooper nearly halfway through the season from Oakland in exchange for a 2019 first-round draft pick. The Cowboys are 8-2 since making the trade. (7-3, Dallas, 6:03 first quarter)
Rams get on the board quickly: Los Angeles took the opening kickoff and marched down the field against the Dallas defense, but stalled in the red zone before settling for a 25-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to take a 3-0 lead. Running back Todd Gurley, who missed the final two games of the Rams' regular season, appeared to be back to his old form, rushing four times for 19 yards. Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch pressured Rams quarterback Jared Goff on a third-down play, forcing an errant throw and the field goal attempt. (3-0, Los Angeles, 9:47 first quarter)
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