Dallas Cowboys| Five storylines to watch for on Saturday

Tom Pennington Getty images

–Brian Contreras–

The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Los Angeles to face off against the L.A. Rams in the NFC Divisional Round on Saturday night. Dallas is coming off an impressive 24-22 victory last Saturday night against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys could have been traveling to New Orleans for a rematch against the Saints but with the Chicago Bears missing what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, the Philadelphia Eagles now face that challenge. The two teams have historic pasts, and Saturday night’s game may become a legendary match.
Here are five stats and storylines going into Saturday’s Divisional Round matchup you should know.

1. NFL’s top two running backs face off

 

There is little debate to who the league’s best two running backs have been since 2016. The Rams’ Todd Gurley and Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott since coming into the league have been the league’s leaders in touches, rushing yards, and scrimmage yards. Gurley, who was the 10th pick in the 2015 draft has totaled 1,229 touches, 4,547 rushing yards, and 6,430 total scrimmage yards. Elliott, the NFL’s fourth overall pick in 2016, has amounted 1,003 touches, 4,048 rushing yards, and 5,247 scrimmage yards, even after missing eight games due to a suspension. Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garett compared the two running backs this week saying,

“They are both complete players, both play with a great energy and competitive spirit that certainly helps their teams.”

 

2. Top Offense vs Top Defense

Saturday night’s match will feature the NFL’s second-ranked offense in the Rams, going up against the seventh-ranked defense in the Cowboys. The Rams are led on offense of course by Gurley, and third-year quarterback and former number one overall pick Jared Goff. The Rams finished the year with 421.1 yards per game (YPG), 281.7 passing YPG, and 139.4 rushing YPG, which were in the top five in each category, per ESPN. The Rams are no stranger to having overpowered offenses, having put on the field “The Greatest Show on Turf” back in 2000 with Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, and the receiving duo of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

Dallas finished the year ranked seventh in total defense, 13th in passing, and fifth in rushing yards allowed. The Cowboys have arguably the best front seven in all of football, led by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and the two young talented linebackers, Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch. Both teams have found success in these two areas thanks to their outstanding young coaches.

The Rams’ second-year coach Sean McVay has been nothing short of an offensive genius in his time in L.A. Formerly the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, McVay was brought in last season after the Rams’ parted ways with Jeff Fisher to do what Fisher couldn’t: properly utilize the quarterback. The Cowboys have gone from a defense with potential, to one of the best in football in just one season. This is no doubt the effect of newly acquired passing-game coordinator, Kris Richard from Seattle. Richard spent eight years with Seattle, growing into their assistant defensive backs coach, evolving into the defensive coordinator. There, he became the mastermind behind the “Legion of Boom”. Many players on the Cowboys’ defense have been impacted by Richard’s time in Dallas.

“When he talks to you and you listen to his words, you understand this guy is going to be destined for greatness,” cornerback Bryon Jones said.

Jones is just one example of the Richard effect, converting from the team’s safety a year ago into a Pro Bowl cornerback.

3. Cowboys/Rams Playoff history

2019 will not be the first time these two storied franchises have met in the postseason, but you have to go all the way back to Jan.4,1986 when the Rams shutout the Cowboys 20-0, led by Eric Dickerson’s 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns. This will be the ninth postseason matchup between the two, with the series split even at 4-4. The first game was played on Dec. 23, 1973, in the Divisional round and won by the Cowboys 27-16. Dallas would go on and win the second matchup just two years later with a 37-7 blowout.

The Rams would eventually get their first win against Dallas in 1976 with a narrow two-point victory, 14-12. Two years later would start a span of three years in a row the teams faced off; Dallas got their revenge winning 28-0. The next season, L.A. returned the favor with a 21-19 victory and the Cowboys punched back with a 34-13 win in the third matchup. L.A. has won the last two matchups, one in Dallas in 1983, and the last at home in 85’. Saturday’s Divisional game winner will get the advantage in the series at 5-4 and punch their ticket to the NFC Championship game next Sunday.

4. Young Quarterbacks Trying to Prove Themselves

Both Prescott and Goff were drafted in the 2016 NFL draft. Goff, the first pick in the draft, and Prescott drafted in day two in the fourth round have had successful starts to their careers, despite being drafted so far apart from each other. Goff had a rocky start his rookie year; after starting as the team’s backup to Case Keenum, Goff was finally named the starter against the Miami Dolphins. Goff finished the game 17-31 for 134 yards and zero touchdowns in a 14-10 loss. Goff would finish the last seven games as the starter and lost all seven as the team finished 4-12.

With a new coach in Mcvay, Goff got his first win in week 1 against the Colts on 46-9 throwing for 306 yards and a touchdown. With McVay being able to utilize Goff and the rest of the offense, the Rams went on to win the NFC West, but the season came to an end against the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard round. Goff’s improvement from his rookie year to his second was noticed as he was named to the Pro Bowl.

With an injury to Tony Romo, Prescott was the Cowboys’ week 1 starter in 2016, and he and Elliott took the league by storm. Despite losing to the Giants in his first NFL start, Prescott led the team to the NFC’s top seed, finished 13-3, and won the Rookie of the Year award. In Prescott’s first playoff game, he would fall just short to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, 34-31.

Last season, Prescott faced the criticism and pressure that the position of quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys entails. The 2017 season started off on the right foot, but with distractions of a possible Elliott suspension, and later it becoming a reality, the team and Prescott were destroyed in Atlanta against the Falcons. The 2017 season spiraled downward from then on. Prescott kept the Cowboys playoff hopes alive during Elliott’s 6 game suspension, splitting the six games. In a pivotal matchup against the Seahawks in Elliott’s return, the Cowboys lost 21-12 which would end their playoff hopes.

Coming into this year’s playoffs, both quarterbacks have felt the pressure from their fanbase and are looking to take the monkey off their back. Goff, who struggled late in the year, is looking to get his first playoff win. Prescott, looking like he is starting to get more confidence as the weeks go by, and coming off his first playoff win, wants to prove he is a franchise quarterback.

5. Antwuan Woods Homecoming

One member of the “Hot Boyz”, Antwuan Woods has been one of the most underrated players on the team’s defense, but fans are starting to notice the first year Cowboy. Woods was born in Los Angeles and attended William Howard Taft high school in Woodland Hills, California. After being named an Under Armour All-American, Woods was offered a scholarship to USC. Woods spent four years at USC and finished his collegiate career with 111 tackles and eight sacks. Woods went undrafted in the 2016 draft and signed with the Tennessee Titans. Woods spent his first two seasons bouncing from the active roster to the practice squad. The Titans released him in May of 2018 and shortly after signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys.

You might remember hearing about a player getting into a fight with All-Pro center Travis Fredrick during training camp. Well, that was no other than Mr. Antwuan Woods. Woods made the team’s 53-man roster and has been the starting nose tackle. Saturday will be Woods’ first time playing in the Coliseum since his time at USC, and already friends and family have been asking him for tickets.

The Dallas Cowboys will fight the Los Angeles Rams for their playoff-lives on Saturday night. Day after day, Cowboys Nation gets more and more anxious for these two storied-franchises to face off. If the Dallas Cowboys win, they will face a familiar face in the NFC Championship: The New Orleans Saints or the Philadelphia Eagles.

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