After an upset-ridden Wildcard weekend, the Dallas Cowboys head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. The Rams head into the match-up as the favorite, and after a well deserved first-round bye, the team hopes to move on to the NFC championship game. As for the Cowboys, Dak Prescott also hopes to push his team past the divisional round, a feat that the franchise has not accomplished since 1996.
Both the Rams and Cowboys have strengths to display, and weaknesses to exploit. Here is a breakdown of the key match-ups taking place in Saturday night’s playoff game:
Aaron Donald vs. Dallas O-Line
Although the Rams’ defensive line is loaded with talent, Aaron Donald is the obvious difference maker, and applying pressure to Prescott, can be the difference between winning and losing. Forcing inaccurate throws or turnovers can give the Rams the advantage to win the game. Being the cornerstone of the team’s pass rush with 20.5 sacks on the season, Donald will have to make this happen.
The Cowboys offensive line is not what it once was due to an injury-plagued season, but with players like Tyron Smith and Zack Martin in the mix, the battle within the trenches will be interesting. In order to win, Dallas must slow down the Los Angeles pass rush.
McVay’s Offense vs. Elite Defense
The Dallas Cowboys defense has proven to be elite time and time again. With an aggressive defensive coaching staff, impressive linebacker core and suffocating run defense, the Cowboys may prove to be a problem for Sean McVay’s offense.
The last time the Rams faced an elite defense was week 14 against the Chicago Bears. In that game, Jared Goff threw a career high of four interceptions. In addition, Todd Gurley was held to a season-low of 28 rushing yards. The Cowboys defense may not be as dominant as the Bears’, but have proven to be able to shut down explosive offenses.
To move on to the NFC championship game, McVay’s offense has to outplay the Cowboys defense.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Todd Gurley
Arguably the two best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley both have a chance to lead their teams to victory. Although they won’t be on the field at the same time, their match-up lies in productivity.
The Cowboys are 7-1 when Elliott rushes for more than 100 yards in a game this season. The running game is the base of the entire Cowboys offense. If Elliott can have a similar performance to last week’s 137 yard game against Seattle, then the Cowboys have a good shot at pulling off the upset.
Todd Gurley leads all running backs in touchdowns from scrimmage this season (21), showing he is a huge part of the Rams offense. In the last two weeks of the regular season, Gurley was out with a knee injury. Returning as a dominant presence, a big performance from Gurley can keep the Rams in the win column.
Both the Rams and Cowboys have great running backs. Advancing to the playoffs may rely on which one of them has the better game.
The Cowboys and Rams each have talented rosters that are sure to put on an exciting divisional playoff game. The winner will advance to the NFC championship game to play against the winner between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.