Rams vs. Cowboys: How the teams match up for NFC playoff game
Fans at the Los Angeles Rams’ first playoff game had many opinions about what a good tailgate needs.
A look at how the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys match up for an NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday.
NO. 2 RAMS VS. NO. 4 DALLAS
5:15 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum
When Rams have the ball
Rams quarterback Jared Goff appeared to return to form during season-ending victories over the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. But the Cowboys defense, under veteran coordinator Rod Marinelli, presents a far greater challenge. Goff passed for 32 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this season. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks each have more than 1,200 yards receiving, and receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Gerald Everett are other threats. Running back Todd Gurley is expected to play after sitting out the last two games because of a left knee injury. It remains to be seen whether a near one-month layoff will help or hinder him against a defense that limited the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL’s top rushing team, to only 73 yards in last week’s NFC wild-card victory. C.J. Anderson, who rushed for 167 and 132 yards during Gurley’s absence, also should get some carries. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth left the game against the 49ers because of a knee bruise, but he said he was ready to go. The line will be charged with holding off a front seven that includes end Demarcus Lawrence, who has 10½ sacks. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith and cornerback Byron Jones are other standouts.
When Cowboys have the ball
Dak Prescott is a dual-threat quarterback with a knack for making big plays. Prescott showed hismettle in the Cowboys’ wild-card victory. He passed for 226 yards and a touchdown, and sneaked for the game-winning touchdown after picking up a first down with a critical 16-yard run on a third-and-14 play from the 17-yard line. Running back Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing for the second time in three seasons. He also improved his skills as a receiver, leading the Cowboys with 77 catches. The biggest spark to the Cowboys’ offense occurred after they acquired receiver Amari Cooper in an October trade with the Oakland Raiders. Cooper gives Prescott a legitimate and often spectacular outside threat. He caught six touchdown passes in nine games with the Cowboys. Last week against the Seahawks, he had seven receptions for 106 yards. Rams cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters have experience against Cooper. Cowboys guard Travis Frederick and left tackle Tyron Smith lead one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Rams tackle Aaron Donald had a league-best 20½ sacks for a defense that improved after the trade-deadline acquisition of edge-rushing linebacker Dante Fowler. Safety Lamarcus Joyner is recovered from an ankle injury and will be in the lineup.
When they kick
Kicker Greg Zuerlein did not play in the Rams’ wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons last season because of a back injury, so this will be his first postseason game. Zuerlein kicked a team-record seven field goals against the Cowboys in a 35-30 road victory in 2017. Punter Johnny Hekker will see a familiar face far down the field: Former Ram Tavon Austin, who returned a punt for an apparent touchdown against the Seahawks(the run was nullified by a holding penalty).
By the numbers
How the teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential and sacks, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
CATEGORY: DALLAS | RAMS
Points scored: 21.2 (22) | 32.9 (2)
Points allowed: 20.2 (6) | 24.0 (20)
Pass offense: 222.1 (23) | 281.7 (5)
Rush offense: 122.7 (10) | 139.4 (3)
Pass defense: 234.7 (13) | 236.2 (14)
Rush defense: 94.6 (5) | 122.3 (23)
Sacks: 39 (T16) | 41 (15)
Penalty yards: 55.3 (11) | 54.9 (10)
Turnovers: +3 (12) | +11 (4)
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Rams are rested and Gurley is back in the lineup. Most key players, as well as many who are more under the radar, got postseason jitters out of the way last season. Rams 27, Cowboys 20
Sam Farmer’s pick
The Cowboys are playing well, particularly on defense. Rams are vulnerable against the run, so that’s a little scary for them. Still, they’re rested, they learned from last year’s playoffs, and Sean McVay will have them ready. Rams 28, Cowboys 23
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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