Cowboys Take On Rams, What To Watch For

The Dallas Cowboys return home to take on the St. Louis Rams at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. EST, noon CST. The game will be carried live on Fox TV.

Both teams come in at 1-1, the Cowboys beat the Giants on opening week before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 17-16 last week. The Rams beat the Cardinals before losing a close game against the Atlanta Falcons last week.

Series History:

The Rams and Cowboys have split their last 10 matchups dating back to 1986. And, the entire series has been remarkably even with each team winning 15 including the playoffs.

Since the Rams have been in St. Louis however, the clubs have played five times, with Dallas winning three of them, including a 34-7 rout in Dallas in 2011.

Change at Strong Safety?: Rookie J.J. Wilcox continued to get reps with the first team at strong safety ahead of Will Allen in practice and may get the start on Sunday.

The 6’0, 216 strong safety from Georgia Southern has more speed and upside than the 10 year vet Allen, who has played well in the first two games and is a converted running back, playing safety for only his season season in college but was impressive in the preseason and training camp.

No Ground And Pound Here: Neither the Rams nor the ‘Boys have been running the ball consistently thus far in 2013. St. Louis’ leading rusher Daryl Richardson has gained on 98 yards on 30 carries as they’ve struggled to replace Steven Jackson.

The Cowboys this season have been facing the same lack of consistency they have since the Emmit Smith era came to an end over 10 years ago. DeMarco Murray had a solid debut with 20 carries for 86 yards (4.2 average) in the win over the Giants, but could only muster 25 yards on 12 carries on Sunday against the Chiefs for an average of only 2.1 yards per rush.

The Rams have had a very good (6th best) rushing defense this season, and have allowed only 142 yards on the ground this season but Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan has to find a way to mix in the run to an already potent passing attack. Key stat – The Cowboys have never lost (6-0) a game when Murray rushes for 100-plus yards.

“We’re working diligently to that end of putting together a run game and putting together our players and fitting the chemistry and then definitely calling it and getting it executed on the field,” Callahan said.

“We’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job of calling more runs.”

Injuries: The Cowboys are probably going into this one with Defensive End Anthony Spencer. Spencer missed Wednesday’s practice but returned albeit in a limited role on Thursday. He was supposed to be healing, but did not practice on Friday.

Dez Bryant (Back spasms) missed the Wednesday session and was limited on Thursday as well but is expected to go on Sunday. “I can roll, I’ll give you that – I can roll,” Bryant said about his availability for the game.

Ernie Sims has been ruled out with a groin injury.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups-

Dez Bryant – Cortland Finnegan:
This is a matchup that the Cowboys will need to win on Sunday, the Rams like to play off the receivers at the line of scrimmage, which favors the bigger receivers. If Bryant can get the best of Finnegan, then the Rams will have to double him and that will open up more big play opportunities for Miles Austin and Jason Witten from QB Tony Romo.

Bryant had a big game against the Chiefs last week, hauling in nine passes for 141 yards. He’ll be looking to keep the momentum going against a secondary that is mediocre unless they’re getting a lot of help from the pass rush.

Speaking of Romo, he’s off to a hot start in 2013, passing for over 560 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception. He has an excellent QB rating of 94.6. But he’ll need a good performance from his offensive line to buy him time to throw.

Tyron Smith – Robert Quinn:
This should be a great matchup of two of the more productive young players in the league. Smith is becoming one of the better tackles in the league and is continuing to show improvement each game.

But this week he’ll have his hands full with Quinn. Quinn leads the NFL in QB Pressures with 16, already has four sacks and looks to be on a mission to easily better his mark of 10.5 sacks he netted in 2012.

Doug Free – Chris Long:
While Quinn has been the Rams best pass rusher, Long has developed into a solid bookend presence at the opposite edge. He’s registered 24.5 sacks since 2011.

Long is durable, tough and will be a tough matchup for Free who suffered through a nightmarish 2012 and took a pay cut to stay on the Cowboys. Moved to guard during the preseason, Free is back to playing RT and has played well in the early going/

Jared Cook – Dallas LBs/Safeties:
Cook is a big (6’5, 254) target for Rams QB Sam Bradford who presents a physical, athletic mismatch against most linebackers and safeties he plays against. In Week 1 Cook caught seven passes for 141 yards and 2 TDs. Wilcox may see plenty of him.

From a Dallas perspective, the three keys to win are pretty simple-

Win the Turnover Battle:
This one is self-explanatory, during the 36-31 win over the Giants the Cowboys forced six turnovers. In the 17-16 loss to the Chiefs, turnovers killed drives that could have turned into points. Right now the team isn’t the type that can win if they don’t win the turnover battle.

Keep Romo Upright:
The Rams defensive strength is the edge rushers in Quinn and Long. If they are able to impose their will rushing Tony Romo, then it will be a long day for the Cowboys offense. The pass protection will have to be top notch this week to allow Dallas to take those shots down the field to take advantage of Bryant and Austin’s matchups.

Another way is to produce a capable running game with Ryan and keeping the offense balanced, if Romo is forced to throw 40+ passes, it won’t be a good day.

Watch The Underneath Routes:
The Rams like to spread out opponents on offense and attempt to pull the linebackers, deep and run the ball with Richardson. The Dallas linebackers are going to have to stay home and make plays.

The Rams strength of their WRs is the YAC (yards after catch) look for them to run crossing routes underneath and get Chris Givens or Tavon Austin an easy pitch and catch from Bradford. They’re going to target the short area of the field and attempt to bust big plays from those.

Look for some late game heroics by Romo to pull this one out. Cowboys 27-21

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