Despite record, Rams will not take Cowboys lightly
The veteran players speak from experience.
Linebacker Clay Matthews in his 11th NFL season, safety Eric Weddle his 13th. The Rams invested in both last March, knowing that players with a combined 12 Pro Bowls between them would provide a no-nonsense approach for a team aiming to return to the Super Bowl.
Matthews and Weddle are blunt with teammates — and with reporters.
They did not hedge this week when explaining the Rams’ formula for making the playoffs.
The Rams (8-5) play the Dallas Cowboys (6-7) on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. They finish the season with a game on the road against the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers and a home game against the Arizona Cardinals.
With tight end Gerald Everett sidelined because of a knee injury, coach Sean McVay made tight end Tyler Higbee one of Jared Goff’s primary targets.
“We really need to win out to secure ourselves a spot,” Matthews said.
Said Weddle: “We’re in no position to look past anybody…. It’s all or nothing.”
Three weeks ago, after getting routed by the Baltimore Ravens, the Rams were 6-5. But they regrouped to defeat the Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks to pull within a game of the Minnesota Vikings (9-4) in the race for an NFC wild-card spot.
“One of the most humbling losses in my career, probably everyone in this locker room, to get destroyed like we did,” Weddle said of the loss to the Ravens.
But the embarrassing defeat spurred something positive.
“It really brought us closer,” Weddle said, “and got us to where I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Now the Rams play a Cowboys team that has confounded owner/general manager Jerry Jones and their legion of fans.
The offense boasts quarterback Dak Prescott — the league’s top passer — star running back Ezekiel Elliott, star receiver Amari Cooper, star tight end Jason Witten and one the most formidable and highest-paid offensive lines in NFL history. A defense featuring ends DeMarcus Lawrence and former Ram Robert Quinn ranks ninth in the league.
And yet the Cowboys are under .500 this season under coach Jason Garrett.
In a span of less than two weeks, the Cowboys lost three games in a row. On Nov. 24, the New England Patriots beat the Cowboys, 13-9. Four days later, the Buffalo Bills defeated them, 26-15. And on Dec. 5, the Chicago Bears beat them, 31-24.
“Obviously, we haven’t played consistently well enough throughout the year,” Garrett said during a teleconference with Los Angeles reporters. “We’ve got a good group of guys who work hard and compete the right way.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a couple different stretches where we haven’t played well enough.”
Despite their record, the Cowboys lead the NFC East. They can ensure themselves a playoff berth by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.
“Everyone’s better than their record,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said. “They’re just not in a good place right now, but… they’re in a better place than us because they’re going to make the playoffs.”
Gurley’s remark was not a commentary dismissing his own team’s chances of a making a third consecutive postseason appearance. He was simply pointing out the reality of the Cowboys’ situation.
Rams coach Sean McVay was asked this week if he regarded the Cowboys as a sleeping giant.
“I don’t know about a sleeping giant,” he said, “They’re a giant in terms of getting ready for them and getting ready to go.”
McVay, in his third season, has coached the Rams to victories in two matchups against the Cowboys, including last season’s 30-22 divisional-round playoff victory at the Coliseum.
In 2017, in McVay’s fourth game, the Rams traveled to AT&T Stadium and defeated the Cowboys, 35-30, with the help of Greg Zuerlein’s team-record seven field goals.
Along with Zuerlein’s performance, one play stood out: Gurley caught a pass in a seam on the right side and dashed 53 yards for a touchdown.
The Rams are a winning team with Todd Gurley running the ball, so why did Sean McVay hesitate so long to use him this season? Will it cost them a playoff berth?
“I just remember thinking, ‘Wow,’” McVay said. “It was like he was shot out of a cannon.”
Gurley went on to win the NFL offensive player of the year that season. In the 2018 playoffs, he returned from a knee injury that forced him to sit out the final two regular-season games and rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ victory over the Cowboys.
Gurley has not rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since.
McVay limited Gurley’s touches during much of this season, but as of late he has given him the ball – and the offense has resembled the unit that mostly dominated the previous two seasons.
In last week’s 28-12 victory over the Seahawks, Gurley rushed for 79 yards in 23 carries and caught four passes for 34 yards. In the fourth quarter, he stiff-armed Seahawks defensive back Tre Flowers en route to a touchdown run .
“That was a ‘Wow’ moment,” McVay said.
The Rams might need a few more Sunday.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.