INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Rams’ low-scoring offense has a patchy offensive line, a lukewarm running game and few answers for the wave of opposing rushers that has already sacked Matthew Stafford 16 times this season.
Pretty much the last thing the Super Bowl champions need to see this Sunday is Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and the fearsome Dallas Cowboys defense at SoFi Stadium.
“From back to front, it’s all really impressive on tape,” Stafford said. “I’ve got great players, I’ve got a really solid scheme, it helps those players accentuate what they do well. They’ve done a great job after the setter, affecting the pocket in the games I’ve seen It will be a big challenge for us, really on all levels.”
While Stafford and the Rams (2-2) need a win to bounce back from a Monday night loss at San Francisco, the Cowboys (3-1) can cement their strong start under coach Mike McCarthy with a win over the road against the defending champions. The Dallas defense is doing most of the work, and it could be feasting on a Los Angeles offense that could play on the third strings at all three inside positions on the offensive line due to injuries.
Those absences have affected everything Sean McVay tries to do offensively, and Dallas’ pass rush presents an ominous challenge to Stafford’s health and the Rams’ efficiency.
“Obviously people take issue with our run defense because frankly they probably don’t want to deal with our pass rush in third-and-five or so,” McCarthy said. “So we have to stay focused on our run defense. I think that will be our biggest challenge going forward. If I was playing against our defense, that’s how I would do it.”
The Rams might find it tough: They’re 30th in the league with just 68.5 rushing yards per game.
The game is a reunion of the first regular season game ever played in 2020 at SoFi, the multi-billion dollar football palace built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke and defended by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose company Home Legends manages stadium operations.
This rematch also once looked likely to mark the return of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after a broken right thumb, but Cooper Rush’s 3-0 start as his replacement reduced the urgency of Prescott’s return. Instead, the Cowboys are expected to face Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey with Rush behind center again and the Dallas defense taking the game on his shoulders.
(MORE) HARD TIMES
The Rams would drop below .500 for only the second time in McVay’s career with a loss. McVay has never had a losing season and Los Angeles has never been .500 after six games in one season during his tenure.
“All you can do is keep fighting,” McVay said. “I believe in these players, I believe in these coaches and I believe in people who are resilient and able to react. And every week is a new week. I want to start seeing improvements.”
WHERE IS DONALD?
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott knows all about the importance of finding Donald, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, before the snap.
“At running back, he always knew where he was, especially in that passing game,” Elliott said. “A lot of times this week you’ll see me checking on him before heading down that road. Like two years ago.”
Elliott specifically remembers the moment Donald “lifted me off the ground and threw me” in the Rams’ 20-17 win at SoFi in 2020.
“I still made the pass,” said the two-time running champion, who has a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league. “It was like a 20-yard gain, so it was a winning moment. But…”.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his Los Angeles counterpart Raheem Morris have been close since their days together at Hofstra. They coached with the Falcons from 2015 to 2020 before landing high-profile coordinator jobs that could lead them back to head coaching gigs.
“Dan and Raheem are very close, so it’s more of a process than a pattern,” McCarthy said of what the Cowboys can learn about the Rams from that connection. “The most important element for this week is to understand the game, the sequence and the way he looks at the game.”
HEY, OLD FRIEND
Quinn also reunites with Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner, one of the star defenses he coached in Seattle when the Seahawks went to back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013-14.
Wagner was the primary tackle on the 2013 title-winning team with defense, dominating Denver in a 43-8 Super Bowl victory. After Seattle’s loss to New England the following year, Quinn was hired as Atlanta’s head coach.
“Sometimes we talk, ‘He’s a quarterback who’s seen it all. And so I would say on the other side of that, that’s what you expect from Wagner,” Quinn said. who can deceive (him).
Cooper Kupp is coming off a career-high 14 receptions against the 49ers, and he leads the NFL with 42 catches in four games. Dallas’ pass defense has been excellent, allowing just 171 yards per game, but Kupp produced three monster games (and a quiet outing against Arizona) in his freshman year after winning the player award. AP NFL Offensive of the Year.
When asked for the key to stop Kupp, Quinn replied, “Who, man. If there was a key, few people unlocked that door.”
AP professional football writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.
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