Double Coverage: Rams at Cowboys
By Todd Archer and Nick Wagoner
The Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams will meet for the second time in three seasons at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys won convincingly, 34-7, in 2011, but this Rams team is different. ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you their Double Coverage preview.
Archer: It's always about the quarterback here with the Cowboys and Tony Romo, but I'm curious about Sam Bradford. Where is he in his development and is there any doubt he is their answer at the game's most important spot?
Wagoner: The Rams have made every effort to turn this into Bradford's team, and, through two weeks, it's absolutely become that. Bradford has had two strong statistical weeks to start the season, led a comeback win against Arizona in the opener and nearly did it again last week in Atlanta. He's clearly more comfortable in his second season with the same offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer and surrounded by better skill position players such as tight end Jared Cook and receiver Tavon Austin. Bradford is showing signs of having the breakthrough season many have long expected. For the Rams' part, there's no doubt he's the guy moving forward and the decision-makers have repeatedly and publicly said as much.
Speaking of quarterbacks and committing, the Cowboys made their move to lock up Romo already. How has he responded to that financial vote of confidence?
Archer: I think it goes beyond the financial commitment, although weíd all like to be guaranteed $55 million at some point in our lives. The bigger vote of confidence came from Jerry Jones wanting him in on the game planning with the coaches. Romo has more say now than he has ever had as the starting quarterback. Itís his offense in a lot of respects. The Cowboys are doing more no-huddle work than ever before, and thatís where Romo has complete control. Now there could be some drawbacks, too, because theyíre not running the ball. The Cowboys talked about running the ball more and better in 2013 than they did in 2012, and they have 39 carries for 124 yards in two games. Romo has dropped back to pass nearly 100 times in two games. There is even more of a burden on him now, and heís already had to do so many things here lately to win games.
One guy I canít wait to see Sunday is Austin. Everybody had him pegged for greatness this summer, and heís coming off his first two-touchdown game. How have the Rams tailored their offense for him?
Wagoner: Well, it's been a bit of a mixed bag for Austin so far. Yes, he had a couple of touchdowns last week, but he also had some issues with drops. The Rams have used him as a receiver, lined him up at running back and used him as the primary punt returner, and those will all be ways they'll continue to use him moving forward. Through two weeks, they haven't been able to get him out in space where he can operate at his best. That's why he has yet to hit any of the big plays many are expecting from him. On the flip side, he's been better in short areas moving the chains than expected. His first touchdown catch against Atlanta was particularly encouraging because he showed a knack for being able to make a tough grab in a congested area.
Not to keep piggybacking off your questions, but let's talk a little about Dallas' most exciting wideout, Dez Bryant. Clearly he's not too banged up given his performance last week, but what is his status? The Rams have really struggled against the pass the first two weeks and Bryant could have a monster game if he's up to full strength.
Archer: He should be fine, but this is something that has cropped up the past couple of seasons. He missed a handful of plays against the Chiefs because of back spasms, but it wasnít nearly as bad as last yearís finale at Washington, where he could barely move. I think itís a matter of keeping loose for him because they say itís not a structural issue. He is just a nightmare matchup because he can overpower corners in man-to-man. The Chiefs' Brandon Flowers wasnít in bad position on a couple of those plays, but Bryant just ripped the ball away from him. And the best pass Romo threw to Bryant all day was the one the receiver dropped on what wouldíve been a big gain. Unfortunately for the Rams corners, I think heíll be fine for this one.
The Cowboys havenít been able to run the ball early in the season and the Rams look to be pretty good against the run (but maybe thatís because the pass defense has been shaky). How good is the front seven?
Rams at Cowboys: Stat of the Week: 253
DeMarco Murray had a Cowboys record 253 rushing yards on 25 carries when he last saw the Rams on Oct. 23, 2011, at then-Cowboys Stadium.
Wagoner: Yeah, it's hard to get a read on just how good the Rams' run defense is right now because they've played pretty anemic run teams in the first two weeks. I do think they'll be pretty good in that regard over the course of the season, but let's see how they do when they face the likes of San Francisco, Seattle and Houston. The front four is the strength of this team as a whole, and the linebackers are solid, too. The front four generates a pass rush on a consistent basis. Ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn have been as good as ever so far this season.
The Rams haven't given up a sack in the first two games and four in a row dating back to last season. How are the Cowboys adjusting to a new defensive scheme and what kind of challenges do they pose in regard to the pass rush? And how are they using DeMarcus Ware?
Archer: Last week against the Chiefs, the Cowboys used Ware on both sides in part so he could go against rookie tackle Eric Fisher. He had two sacks in the game and was a constant source of pressure on quarterback Alex Smith. I wonder if the Cowboys continue to do that this week with Rams tackle Rodger Saffold looking like he will miss the game with an injury. Ware has predominantly lined up against the left tackle for his career, but with George Selvie showing he can play both sides and Anthony Spencer rounding into shape after missing so much time with a knee injury, I think the smart thing is to move Ware around.
The final word on Sunday's matchup at AT&T Stadium:
Nick Wagoner: The teams look to be pretty evenly matched, which should make for a close game. Although it's a small sample size, the Rams have showed some moxie to mount late comebacks and finish games strong. They can't afford another slow start on the road, but they'll find a way to finish strong enough to steal a win here. Rams 27, Cowboys 24
Todd Archer: If the Cowboys want to show they are a different team from the one of recent years, they must win this game. It won't be easy, but the defense, held without a takeaway last week at Kansas City, gets a key turnover in the fourth quarter to salt away the win. Cowboys 26, Rams 20