This week the St. Louis Rams (0-5) look to right the sinking ship as they follow the baseball Cardinals down south to take on the Dallas Cowboys (2-3). The Cowboys are coming off of a 20-16 loss to the New England Patriots in week 6. A reinvigorated Dallas defense, under the control of Rob Ryan, did very well to hold the Patriot offense to only 20 points, while also forcing quarterback Tom Brady to throw two interceptions.
The Cowboys have been struggling this season, having to work their way through the up and down play of quarterback Tony Romo. In one week, he looks brilliant, the next he looks like Rex Grossman (who also beat the Rams might I add). In the loss to the Patriots, Romo didn't have a bad game, however he didn't stand out either, completing 65% of his passes for 317 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. With virtually no running game after Felix Jones went down due to injury, Romo needed to step up big time, and he didn't. Will this be the week he comes up big?
Despite a 24-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Rams were able to take several positives away from the game. Quarterback Sam Bradford was able to complete 64% of his passes for 328 yards, Steven Jackson compiled 125 yards from scrimmage, and the defense was able to hold the Packers to 90 yards rushing on 31 carries for a per carry average of 2.9 yards. If the Rams could add to this equation by getting in the endzone, then maybe they can start winning some games. In addition to that, the Rams were able to add a new weapon to the receiving corps in Brandon Lloyd, reuniting him with Josh McDaniels, whom he had great success with in Denver. The Rams task this week is no easier as they face a defense ranked first against the run and fifth overall. On offense, the Cowboys' passing game is ranked fourth, while their overall offensive ranking is seventh.
As always, there are three things to watch for in this week's matchup.
Dez Gon' Ball
This is a phrase I will borrow from a good friend of Rams Herd, @kidnoble on Twitter. "Dez gon' ball" is a phrase he uses frequently whenever the Dallas Cowboys are playing. When it comes down to it, Dez Bryant may be the most dynamic player on the Cowboy offense. He is the #2 wide receiver for the Cowboys, and sometimes returns punts as well. If you saw the previous post on Rams Herd titled "Dallas Cowboys vs St. Louis Rams: Where's the Pressure?", you saw some disturbing stats that don't bode well for the Rams in this matchup. The Rams are rated 31st in yards allowed to opposing #2 wide receivers, and are ranked dead last against receivers farther down the depth chart.
On the year, Dez Bryant has 249 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in 4 games. He has battled through some early injuries to still put up respectable numbers. Part of the reason he poses such a big threat to the Rams is that he'll likely be matched up against who would have been fourth on the depth chart if all of our cornerbacks were healthy: Al Harris. Not to shade Al Harris, but at this point in his career, he is more liability in coverage than anything. The Rams must do some of the things they did last week against the Packers in playing some zone coverage to limit big plays by Dez.
Who's Taking Snaps?
On the last play of the game against quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a high ankle sprain that has the chances of him playing this week in doubt. He sat out of practice all week, with backup A.J. Feeley taking all of the first team snaps. If Bradford is not able to go this week, not only does the Rams players fantasy upside take a hit, but their real life chances of winning this game suffer. A.J. has not started a game since 2007. He is also in his first year in McDaniels' offense, although with him being a veteran, he probably has a better grasp than most on it simply by his experience in the league.
If Sam is unable to play, this is a game where Steven Jackson needs to play big. Facing the number one rated run defense is a very daunting task, but I believe Jackson is up for it. In his last matchup against the Cowboys, Jackson had a monster game, rushing for 160 yards. If Bradford doesn't play, Jackson may need to surpasse that in order for the Rams to have a chance of winning.
Use Your New Toy
During the week, the Rams pulled off a huge trade, landing wide receiver Brandon Lloyd from the Denver Broncos for a conditional 6th round pick. Though Lloyd has been in the league awhile, he had his greatest success under McDaniels in Denver, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards, and 11 touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl. Those 77 catches included 23 longer than 20 yards, and 9 longer than 40. The bottom line is that Lloyd brings big play ability to a team severaly lacking big time playmakers. The Rams can not be to shy to use their new toy. He knows the offense well, having spent two years in it.
Lloyd does his best work in intermediate to deep routes, and that is precisely how the Rams should intend to use him. This is regardless as to whether Bradford or Feeley is under center. As a matter of fact, if Feeley starts the game, the Rams should still not shy away from passing the ball, as this may catch the Cowboys off balance.
I'll give two predictions here, one if Bradford plays and one if Feeley plays. If the Rams defense can force to Romo to make his usual mistakes and Bradford plays, the Rams have a chance. If Feeley plays, well...
Bradford Plays - Rams 17 Cowboys 14
Feeley Plays - Rams 6 Cowboys 23