Posted: 12:00 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013
By Tom Ryle
The St. Louis Rams are coming off a one-touchdown loss to the Atlanta Falcons as they head to AT&T; Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys. I took a look in my last post at the Pro Football Focus scores for Dallas through last week's game, and here is a summary of some of the pertinent numbers and rankings for the Rams for comparison.
As always, you can go to PFF's detailed FAQ, which should answer the vast majority of questions about their grading system. One of the things I really like about using the PFF grades is that is does let us do a little apples to apples to see how the teams might match up.
The Rams lost their starting RT, Rodger Saffold, to injury, and he was replaced by Joe Barksdale. Barksdale looked pretty good against the Atlanta Falcons but you can be sure that Dallas will test him.
Sam Bradford is tied for 25th in the league with a very pedestrian -1.2 rating. But part of the issue may be the lack of any outstanding receivers to throw to. Here are his primary targets with their total ratings for the first two games.
Outside of halfback Richardson, Givens is the best option here. If the Cowboys can neutralize him, they should be able to keep the passing game in check.
The Rams are struggling with the running game almost as much as Dallas. The loss of Steven Jackson has not been overcome.
On the line, DE Robert Quinn is a beast. He had an overall score of +9.7 just in the last game. This is the second week he has excelled, with a total score for the first two weeks of +17.9. That puts him as the best 4-3 DE in the league, with a score that is over double that of the next player. It's mainly based on his four sacks already this season. He will normally match up with Doug Free. The rest of the line had mediocre days against the Falcons, but were much stronger in the opener when the Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals. DE Chris Long posted a +4.4 in week one but slumped to a -0.3 last Sunday, and DT Michael Brockers had similar numbers, going from a +3.7 to a -0.8. At least it should be easier for Travis Frederick with no Dontari Poe. Outside of Quinn, the question is going to be which version of the other players show up. But no matter what, Quinn has to be accounted for.
There is nothing special here so far this season. Combined with an obvious weakness in the defensive backs, there should be some room for Tony Romo to work in the passing game.
If there is a place the Cowboys should be hoping to exploit the Rams defense, it is in the secondary. And in the secondary, there is no player that should be more exploitable than Cortland Finnegan. It is interesting that he lines up on the same team as Robert Quinn, because where Quinn's score is twice as good as the next player in the entire NFL, Finnegan's is twice as bad as the next-to-last cornerback. And so far he has played every single defensive snap for St. Louis on his way to amassing a sad -9.6. If I were calling the game for the Cowboys, I would tell Dez Bryant to look for him every single play. And if Bryant was out for a play, I would take bids from whoever else wanted to go up against him, and the after game beers would be on me.
Janoris Jenkins is having a good year opposite him, posting a +2.6 this season. The safeties average out to fairly average.
When you look at the team rankings, the Rams and the Cowboys look fairly similar. St. Louis is ranked 11th in passing offense, just ahead of Dallas at 12, but the rushing game is only ranked 25th (Dallas is 28th). The Rams come in at 15th overall offensively, while Dallas is at 22.
Defensively, the teams are in much better shape. Dallas ranks fifth and St. Louis is sixth. What the Cowboys have to watch out for is that pass rush, where Quinn has staked the Rams to the best rating in the league. But this could be a game where the running woes get better for Dallas. The Rams are 18th in the NFL, which is not all that bad, but (prior to the Thursday Night game) the Giants are ranked second and the Chiefs fourth, so perhaps this is a time to really prove some commitment to the running game.
The biggest edge for the Cowboys is in special teams, where Dallas comes in at 7 and St. Louis is 15.
The Rams don't look like pushovers. The Cowboys have to play a good game. It is winnable, but certainly not automatic.