Divisional Round Drought Continues as Rams Run Roughshod Over Cowboys
As disappointing as the Cowboys’ 30-22 loss in Los Angeles was on Saturday night, it was not overcomplicated: the Rams beat the Cowboys on both sides of the line of scrimmage. This game wasn’t really as close as 8 points. Here are My Observations from the Sideline as the Cowboys’ Divisional Round drought continues.
Marcio Jose Sanchez via AP
273 Rushing Yards Allowed, Are You Kidding Me?
What’s the one mantra you hear repeated over and over and over again by Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and the defensive players? “Our number one priority is to stop the run”. Well, that obviously didn’t happen on Saturday as the Rams offensive linemen mauled the Cowboys. Todd Gurley (115 rushing yards) and C.J. Anderson (123 rushing yards) and even QB Jared Goff (a key 11-yard run on a 3rd down conversion late in the game) ran through the Cowboys defense.
Allowing 273 rushing yards is inexcusable, period. The Cowboys defense couldn’t get off the field. The Rams had the ball for 36:13; that’s way too one-sided in regards to time of possession. The Rams finished with 30 first downs. Ugh!
So, what the heck happened to the Cowboys’ run defense that played so well the prior Saturday in the win over Seattle?
Well, from my vantage point on the sideline, it was clear that the defensive line was not getting enough penetration in either the run defense or the pass rush. There were too many plays where the defensive linemen, particularly in the interior, were getting pushed sideways/laterally instead of penetrating the backfield. And too many times where Rams’ OTs Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein were getting the better of the defensive ends and linebackers. It was not a good showing by LBs Leighton Vander Esch (4 tackles) and Jaylon Smith (9 tackles) who had played so well all season.
No Pass Rush
The Cowboys defense couldn’t manage a sack or a takeaway.
Goff completed only 15 passes and his longest completion was only 21 yards. But he didn’t need to do much because all he had to do was hand the ball off to Gurley or Anderson.
If you can’t stop the run, you’re dead in the water.
If you can’t generate a pass rush, or record a takeaway, or get off the field, you’ve got no chance.
I thought Randy Gregory was going to have a big game, but it didn’t happen as Andrew Whitworth played a terrific game as Goff’s blindside protector. And DeMarcus Lawrence was held in check by Havenstein and other Rams who helped Havenstein in pass protection. Usually it’s the running back or a fullback who helps in pass protection, but Lawrence was getting blocked by Rams’ tight ends and even a receiver or two.
Cowboys’ Offense Didn’t Do Itself or the Cowboys Defense Any Favors
The Cowboys offense was inept on 3rd downs … again. They converted only 1 of 10 attempts on 3rd down. I’m not the greatest in math, but pretty sure that’s a conversion rate of 10%. Atrocious!
The inability to convert on 3rd down is one reason the Cowboys had to go for it on 4th down so often. The Cowboys converted 3-of-4 on 4th down, but the one they missed was crucial when Zeke was stuffed at the line of scrimmage early in the 4th quarter.
It was tough sledding all night for Zeke who gained only 47 rushing yards and averaged just 2.4 yards-per-carry. That’s because one of the guys who used to be the top d-lineman in the NFL decided to turn back the clock…
Jae C. Hong via AP
A Boy Named Suh
Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL right now, but his running buddy along the Rams’ defensive line, Ndamukong Suh, looked like the younger version himself on Saturday night. Suh was dominant, just like his early days as a Detroit Lion. Oh, Donald was great, too. But the combination on Saturday night of Suh and Donald was too much for the Cowboys’ o-line.
Every Play and Call Is Critical in Playoff Football
When the field judge threw his yellow penalty flag on Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones for a “hands to the face” penalty in the 2nd quarter, I knew that call would change the game. I was standing on the sideline at about the mid-point between Jones and the field judge.
I saw him reach for the flag and throw it towards Jones’ original spot on the field as the receiver came off the line of scrimmage. As the flag sailed by, I thought “Oh #*#”.
Here’s the situation: the Rams had the ball on a 3rd and 14 play. The pass – which was not intended for the receiver (Brandin Cooks) Jones was covering – was incomplete. The Rams should have been punting the ball after the incompletion. But the penalty on Jones gave the Rams a first down and extended their drive. At the time the score was 13-7 Rams. But the Rams would score a touchdown on that extended drive and take a 20-7 lead with 3:22 to play in the first half.
Game change on pivotal plays, and that call on Jones was pivotal. The Cowboys would have gotten the ball on offense, trailing only 13-7. Instead, the penalty gave the Rams a break and they cashed-in with a scoring drive to give them a 13-point lead. They never looked back.
If there was one play that could be a do-over in the game, that’s the play I would pick. Nobody may even remember that play as being crucial, but I thought it changed the trajectory of the game.
As the Cowboys trudged off the field, past the muddy sideline and up the tunnel to the locker room, my heart was hurting was Sean Lee. I hope this wasn’t his last game with the Cowboys. But he’s due to count $10.075 million against the cap next season and that’s too much money to pay a player that plays the same position as Leighton Vander Esch.
Will the Cowboys ask Lee to renegotiate his contract? Will Lee continue to play, and if he does, will it be in a different uniform? Gosh, that would be tough to see Lee wear another team’s colors. And it would be tough to see Lee hang it up when he has so much to offer.
Lee’s future will be one of the media’s big storylines as the offseason begins.
I just hope that the disappointment of another Divisional Round loss is not the last time we get to see the defensive captain on the field. He’s one of my all-time favorite guys to meet in 28 seasons working with the Cowboys.
So, what’s ahead?
Well, it’s going to be a long offseason. Overall, the Cowboys accomplished a lot in 2018 with another NFC East title and a playoff victory. But in the aftermath of getting run over by the Rams in Round 2, the current mood is one of disappointment at the way the postseason ended for the Cowboys.
Instead of preparing for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at New Orleans, the players spent Sunday getting their exit physicals. Some are clearing lockers for the last time as Dallas Cowboys.
Changes will take place over the offseason, they always do. But the core of this Cowboys’ team is young and full of promise. The next step is fulfilling that promise and going further in the postseason. Next season will be 27 years-and-counting on making it past the Divisional Round. And as soon as everyone exhales following this loss, the clock starts ticking.