Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys - Week 1 preview
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
RB Darrell Henderson, Jr. (hamstring): NO GAME STATUS (Wed - full; Thur - full; Fri - full)
OT Andrew Whitworth (rest): NO GAME STATUS (Wed - DNP; Thur - full; Fri - full)
CB Jourdan Lewis (ankle): OUT (Wed - did not participate; Thur - DNP; Fri - DNP)
LB Luke Gifford (hamstring): NO GAME STATUS (Wed - limited; Thur - limited; Fri - full)
CB Chidobe Awuzie (knee): NO GAME STATUS (Wed - full; Thur - full; Fri - full)
WR Amari Cooper (hamstring): NO GAME STATUS (Wed - full; Thur - full; Fri - full)
5 key factors for Rams
1.) The offensive line
You know it. I know it. The line didn't play well last year, and it was a major reason the Rams and QB Jared Goff took a step back. It wasn't the only reason, but it was a significant detractor.
The line's back without any major personnel additions, so it's up to Head Coach Sean McVay, Offensive Coordinator Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Line Coach Aaron Kromer to make the most of what they've got. That largely means avoiding the early slump for the line that saw the worst stretch of football from LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Rob Havenstein who, as the veteran leaders on the line, are simply too talented to repeat that slide. And if the starting interior line matches the team's unofficial depth chart as LG Joe Noteboom, C Austin Blythe and RG Austin Corbett, it's going to require sufficiency across the board to deal with a talented front seven from the Cowboys.
2.) K Sam Sloman
For the last eight seasons save for seven games due to injury, Greg Zuerlein was locked in as the Rams' kicker. Now for the first time since 2012, the special teams trio of Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker and LS Jake McQuaide has a new member. Out goes Greg the Leg; in comes Sam Sloman.
A seventh-round 2020 NFL Draft pick out of McVay's alma mater, Miami of Ohio, Sloman is the recipient of the grass is always greener effect for Rams fans who spent the offseason miffed at Zuerlein's missed kick at the end of the Week 5 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and/or his season overall. That effect though doesn't do anything for Sloman except hand off those demands. Coincidental that Zuerlein is now a Cowboy and could be the one to make the history books as the first player to score points in SoFi Stadium.
Quite a bit riding on the rookie's shoulders.
3.) The pass rush
The Rams have struggled for years to get significant, consistent pass rush from the outside.
No, they're not going to match Aaron Donald's presence on the inside unless they're able to somehow land one of the NFL's best edge rushers present or future, but they certainly have room to improve over the last few years' output.
The Rams are already beset by the news that rookie EDGE Terrell Lewis, a third-round 2020 NFL Draft pick out of Alabama, will miss at least the first three weeks of the season after being placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list due to complications from a recent procedure on his right knee that was required due to a previous procedure on the knee following an ACL injury. Hopefully Lewis is able to get back to 100%, because the Rams are severely under talented at the edge rushing spot.
Last year's starters, Dante Fowler, Jr., and Clay Matthews, are both gone opening the doors for a new look to start. Leonard Floyd was brought in via free agency, but he's stronger in run defense than the pass rush. Samson Ebukam enters his fourth NFL season in a contract year, though he started the first eight games in 2018 that motivated the front office to make a move for Fowler midseason. Justin Hollins was just brought in from the Denver Broncos after he was cut, but he's more of an outside linebacker than an edge rusher. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Jachai Polite are the options in reserve.
It's not just the limited talent which is why so many outlets ranked this group near the bottom (or at the bottom) of their edge rushing rankings. It's how important it is to disrupt the backfield. Let's see if they can find a way to get to Cowboys QB Dak Prescott every so often especially in clear passing situations.
4.) The run game
We already highlighted the offensive line with the inferred effect it had last and will have this year on QB Jared Goff, but there's an equally important effect they'll have on the effectiveness of the Rams' running game. What might have more of an impact is how McVay, O'Connell and Kromer (who remains the run game coordinator as well as the OL coach) choose to deploy it now that it's without Todd Gurley.
For years, Gurley was a workhorse than could take on the overwhelming majority of the work. No longer. Now with rookie 2020 NFL Draft second-round pick Cam Akers joining second-year RB Darrell Henderson, Jr., and Malcolm Brown, the Rams are expected to use all three in a committee approach to the running game.
That relationship will certainly evolve over the season depending on how they perform individually as well as how healthy they are (Henderson, as noted per the injury report above) is nursing a hamstring issue, though it looks like he'll be able to go. McVay & Co. might opt to hold him back a bit and not worsen the injury, though we'll just have to see.
5.) Fan Favorite Troy Hill
Hill joined the Rams at the tail end of the 2015 season and had an ignominious 2016 campaign leading to the "Fan Favorite" moniker. But when Kayvon Webster was injured late in 2017, Hill filled in and did so admirably including a strong performance against the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card game. In 2018 when Aqib Talib went down in Week 3, it was Hill who filled in for him for eight games and, again, played well in that stretch. In 2019 when Talib again got injured, Hill yet again stepped up and played well across from Marcus Peters and then Jalen Ramsey following those two trades.
So now for the first time after four years in the depth rotation, Hill enters Week 1 as a starter. The real question is one of volume. How much will he be targeted early on? Last year after Ramsey arrived, teams were eager to both avoid one of the NFL's best cornerbacks and target his lesser counterpart. Hill acquitted himself well enough, but now teams will have more respect for him and more complex gameplans than just "throw it at their CB3."
This is a tough matchup with the trio of Cowboys wideouts in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and celebrated rookie and the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, CeeDee Lamb.
BONUS!.) 12 personnel
Much has been made of McVay's switch from the majority 11 personnel usage (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers) to the 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers) though the end run of the 2018 campaign.
The move had various effects. One was to see more play from TE Johnny Mundt who was brought in as a blocking specialist to help support the offensive line who at that point had gone through a bunch of injury-driven changes (Noteboom to Corbett at left guard, Brian Allen to Blythe at center which meant David Edward was in at right guard and Havenstein to Bobby Edward at right tackle). With Gerald Everett out, it also meant more opportunity for TE Tyler Higbee who, in concert with a severe decline of midfield opportunities for WR Cooper Kupp, had an explosive end to the season resulting in him setting the franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end in a season.
The big question is how temporary the switch was.
With Everett healthy and the Rams having spent a third-round 2020 NFL Draft pick on ballyhooed WR Van Jefferson, will McVay revert to 11 personnel in Week 1? That, along with an assumed return of Everett's playing time, would certainly cut down Higbee's effectiveness. It would also put more responsibility on the offensive line if Mundt is sidelined.
This might be the most interesting factor of the entire game all things considered.
1 key non-factor for Rams
1.) The uniforms
They're going to look great in their new home which means there are tons of dorks who spent the summer yelling about clothes for no good reason.
3 key matchups
1.) Rams EDGE rusher TBD v. Cowboys RT Cameron Erving
With Cowboys RT La'El Collins out injured, the Rams will need to try to take advantage of the Cowboys' backup. Erving has tons of experience, so it's a tall task. Still, it's the best spot for the Rams to try and get to Prescott outside of the terror Donald creates on the inside.
2.) Rams CB Troy Hill v. Cowboys WR TBD
Mentioned it as a key factor above, but I'm more eager to see how Hill does than Ramsey.
3.) Rams safeties v. Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
With a shallow inside linebacker depth chart, the Rams are likely to deploy three-safety defensive brackets this season. If they bring it out in Week 1, it will almost certainly be to blunt the effectiveness of the Cowboys' running game.
Easier said than done.
While John Johnson III is talented, he's better playing the pass especially now that he's healthy having returned from last year's shoulder injury. That likely means second-year S Taylor Rapp could be assigned to buttress the run defense. Rapp was provided single-man run responsibilities throughout last year and handled them well. That's a big ask of any rookie which is why I'm not sure rookie 2020 NFL Draft third-round pick S Terrell Burgess will get many of those though he does offer extra support.
More generally, it's an interesting opportunity for first-year Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley to implement his principles against what should be one of the NFL's best offenses.
Broadcast maps (via 506sports)
Thursday Night Football (8:20pm ET/5:20pm PT): Houston @ Kansas City (NBC)
Sunday Night Football (8:20pm ET/5:20pm PT): Dallas @ LA Rams (NBC)
Monday Night Football (7:15pm ET/4:15pm PT): Pittsburgh @ NY Giants (ESPN)
Monday Night Football (10:10pm ET/7:15pm PT): Tennessee @ Denver (ESPN)
o Miami @ New England (red)
o Cleveland @ Baltimore (blue)
o Las Vegas @ Carolina (yellow)
o New York Jets @ Buffalo (orange)
o Indianapolis @ Jacksonville (teal)
o Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati LATE (green)
FOX Sunday Early
o Philadelphia @ Washington (red)
o Chicago @ Detroit (blue)
o Green Bay @ Minnesota (green)
o Seattle @ Atlanta (yellow)
FOX Sunday late
o Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (red)
o Arizona @ San Francisco (blue)
Date: Sunday, September 13, 2020
Time: 8:20pm ET/5:20pm PT
Location: SoFi Stadium | Inglewood, California
National TV: NBC
Local TV: KNBC4
Announcers: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Radio (English, National): Westwood One
Announcers: Ryan Radtke (play-by-play), Terrell Davis (analyst)
Radio (English, Local): ESPN 710 AM
Announcers: J.B. Long (play-by-play), Maurice Jones-Drew (analyst), D’Marco Farr (sideline reporter)
Radio (Spanish): Tu Liga Radio 1330
Announcers: Troy Santiago (play-by-play), Ricardo Lopez (analyst)
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