By Cedric Williams
A slow start on the road proved too much to overcome for the St. Louis Rams in their NFL Week 2 contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
This week, St. Louis will try again for a win on the road with a trip down to Jerry World (officially called AT&T Stadium in Dallas) for a Week 3 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, who, like the Rams, won at home in Week 1, but lost on the road at Kansas City this past Sunday.
The club also known as “America’s Team” isn’t the powerhouse it was back in the 1990s or early 2000s, but the Cowboys do still have great star power with quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, and defensive studs DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne still considered among the best players in the league at their respective positions.
Dallas on Offense
With Romo calling the signals, and Bryant, Witten, and former Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin catching the passes, Dallas is one of the most prolific passing teams in the league.
In just two games this season, Romo has already thrown for 561 yards, three touchdowns, and a 94.6 passer rating. And he has only one interception in nearly 100 pass attempts. It may just be two games, but the Dallas quarterback seems primed for one of the best seasons of his career.
Bryant had a big game last week, with nine catches for 141 yards and a score, and he’s the prototypical big, physical receiver that always seems to give the Rams trouble.
The problem for Dallas, basically for the entire decade since the Emmitt Smith era ended in 2002, is the club hasn’t been able to find any kind of consistent running game from any back they tried since the NFL’s all-time leading rusher retired.
Just this season, DeMarco Murray had 20 carries for 86 yards (4.2 yards per carry) in the opening day win over the New York Giants, but then had just 25 yards on 12 carries (2.1 yard per carry) on Sunday against the Chiefs.
The key to the Cowboys success this year will hinge largely on how long it takes Murray and the run game to get going. If the Cowboys can move the ball on the ground and force defenses to play its high-powered passing attack honestly, that’s when Dallas can really be a team that scores a lot of points.
Dallas on Defense
Once one of the top veteran units in the league that made great use of its speed on defense by imploring the 3-4 look, the Cowboys are switching to a 4-3 set under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive mastermind, Kiffin spent several seasons coaching at USC with his son Lane Kiffin, before deciding he wanted back in the pro game with the Cowboys this year.
So far, Kiffin and the Cowboys “D” have drawn mixed results.
In the season opener, Dallas gave up 478 total yards (428 passing) to the Giants, but won the game 36-31. But then on Sunday, held the Chiefs to just 313 total yards (199 passing), but lost 17-16.
The difference was how well the Cowboys handled (and didn’t handle) the run game.
Against New York, Dallas was stout, limiting the Giants to just 50 rushing yards on the day. But Sunday, Kansas City pounded out 114 yards on 25 carries for a 4.6 yards per carry average, which allowed the Chiefs to rally from behind and hold the Cowboys off at the end.
The Rams and Cowboys have split their last 10 matchups dating back to 1986.
Actually, the entire series is split down the middle, with both clubs having won 15 times against the other.
Since the Rams have been in St. Louis though, the clubs have played five times, with Dallas winning three of them, including a 34-7 beatdown the last time the Rams visited Jerry World in 2011.
The Vegas lines aren’t out yet, but the prevailing thought is Dallas will be the favorite in this game. But a closer look at the matchups shows the Rams probably have more talent on their overall roster.
The Cowboys always seem to play better in front of their throng of 80,000 fans at AT&T Stadium, but those same fans have been known to turn on the home club if things start out badly.
So the key for the Rams will be to find a way to take the fans out of the game early and hopefully turn them against the home club, then crowd noise and home team emotion won’t be a problem for the most penalized team in the league after two games.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.