How the Rams beat the Cowboys, and what it can teach us about the 2018 Seahawks

Hello again, all. Last week I wrote a post looking at why Seahawks drives failed against the Cowboys, which you can find here:

Since the Rams' second-in-the-league offense just kicked the life out of the same defense that stopped us cold the week before, I thought I’d do a comparison of the Rams and what made them so hard to contain.

The Seahawks had 12 offensive drives against the Cowboys last week. 7 ended in punts, 1 in a last-minute long-bomb field goal miss, 2 in field goals, 2 in touchdowns.

The Rams had 9 offensive drives against the Cowboys. 1 ended in a punt, 1 in a last-minute long-bomb field goal miss, 1 ran out the clock at the end of game, 3 in field goals, 3 in touchdowns.

Last week, I had the morbid benefit of 8 failed drives to analyze. Since the Rams only arguably failed once, I’m going to go through the 7 Rams drives, successes and sole failure, that weren’t constrained by low time on the clock. Exclamation marks in the notations indicate pre-snap penalties, and the "F" is a fumble.

Here are my conclusions:

The Seahawks community’s obsession this week with Schotty running the ball too much, or running on first down, or run-run-pass sequences, are all misplaced hostility. The Rams ran it plenty – on first down, back-to-back, in the rain, on a train, in a box, while eating lox. They executed, and we did not.

The Rams’ time of possession was lethal. They chewed an obscene amount of clock all game, and the Cowboys only had eight drives as a result.

The Rams very rarely went backwards, and never by much. Even when plays didn’t succeed, they almost always led to no gain, or minimal gain. The Rams weren’t 15 yards or further from the line of scrimmage all night. I credit Rams players executing their assignments. Even when blocking wasn’t perfect, there were rarely outright whiffs or defenders getting a free shot into the backfield.

As much as we love to call him overrated, Todd Gurley is good at football, and bailed out the blocking when it occasionally failed him, usually with his ability to accelerate absurdly fast from a standing start.

Rams wide receivers were consistently open. I’m sure scheme has something to do with this, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they’re collectively better than the Hawks’ WRs. All three Rams WRs are serious pass-catching threats, as is their TE and their RB.

The "Goff is McVay’s meat puppet" storyline has legs. Goff makes bad decisions, and his accuracy is dodgy, especially under pressure. Unfortunately he’s rarely under pressure and his WRs are usually wide open, so neither his decision-making or his accuracy are very costly…yet.

At one point last week, the Hawks ran RRRP (4th down success) and people tore into them for forcing the run. The Rams ran PPPR (4th down success) on Drive 2, and I’m guessing we’ll hear nothing from the peanut gallery about the Rams’ insistence on forcing the pass.

The Rams’ offensive line beat the crap out of the Cowboys all night, and as time went on, both Goff’s pockets and the holes for the Rams’ RBs got noticeably bigger and more consistent. Considering the distinctly beatable nature of the Cowboys’ secondary, who often seemed out of position, The Rams' routine domination of the Cowboys’ D-line mattered a very great deal.

I also went back and watched the Seahawks-Cowboys game.

I wanted to see if after a few hours of watching the Rams offense at work, anything stuck out to me watching the Hawks doing the same task, like taking my hand out of a bucket of soothingly warm water and plunging it into a frigid pail of arctic seawater. My observations are these:

Someone once told me that the difference between decent golfers and great golfers is not their best shots, it’s that a great golfer’s worst shots are merely mediocre - not catastrophic. The Seahawks routinely suffered plays that I can only bring myself to describe as catastrophic failures, always due to errors in execution, and those plays usually proved fatal to the drive.

When the Rams run a passing play, the ball usually seems to come out somewhere between "immediately" and "very fast". I saw Goff rush a couple throws, but never scramble or take a sack. Wilson holds onto it forever.

In a related observation, our WRs rarely seemed open. Rams WRs routinely seemed to be several steps ahead of their defenders or alone in a sea of green, and ours, even on big completions, were always tightly covered.

Although Wilson and Schotty I'm sure both come in for some blame, I keep turning back to this fact: our only downfield threats by the end of the year were Lockett and half of Baldwin. The Rams offense is a bristling death star of receiving weapons, and the Cowboys had to try to respect all of them, which was usually impossible. Take away our top two receiving threats, which isn't an impossible task, and we’re left with Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett, David Moore, and Jaron Brown. Not even close to good enough if we’re looking to win playoff games.

Wilson throws a much better deep ball than Goff, but he’s not immune to accuracy issues. He missed a few reasonably open receivers I wonder whether Goff would have missed, and some of those misses ended drives, or were the difference between 3 points and 7.

Our offensive line didn’t perform. It’s so obvious that I’ve stuck it down here at the bottom as a formality, but for anybody in doubt, it mattered a great deal. It infected everything. The blatant hold we committed in front of a ref on our second-last drive was very much a product of it.

Drive 1 – 15:00 1Q (RP, R!R, R!, PR, RRP)

Mediocre run for 3 yards. The Cowboys saw it coming, and only a heroic effort from Gurley kept this from being stuffed.

Explosive play action pass. Great protection, receiver wide open.

Mediocre run for 3 yards. Blocking questionable, lots of Cowboys in the area to make the tackle.

Neutral zone infraction, 5 free yards for the Rams.

Successful run for 4 yards, first down. It looks like one Cowboys outside defender was accidentally unblocked, but he couldn’t get to Gurley because Gurley accelerated quickly from QB to the line – possibly because the O-line opened a massive hole for him to run through.

Successful run for 9 yards. One interior Cowboys defender immediately shed his blocker and should have made this a TFL, but Gurley is goddamn fast and high-tailed it in the other direction, where blocking was otherwise good.

Neutral zone infraction, 5 free yards for the Rams.

Failed pass. Bootleg right, a single Rams O-lineman blocking a single Cowboys defender, and the Cowboys defender wins – he’s right in Goff’s face, and Goff can’t get a good angle on the pass.

Successful run for 12 yards. Good blocking got Anderson to the second level, and the tubby-looking Anderson, for whom Mike Tolbert is clearly a spirit animal, took it from there with a full head of steam. A fake jet sweep may have frozen defenders in place, as well.

Mediocre run for 3 yards. Cowboys saw this one coming all the way.

Successful run for 4 yards. Good blocking, good running, smash mouth football.

Failed pass, FG. It looked to me like a Cowboys defender came unblocked up the middle, forcing Goff to make his throw a half-second earlier than planned – the intended WR was open in the endzone, but the ball got there before he did.

Drive 2 – 6:03 1Q (RRP, PPPR, RR, PRR, PRP)

Mediocre run for 3 yards. Everybody on the field did their job.

Mediocre run for 3 yards. Brilliant spin move by the Cowboys’ DE forces Gurley to find a new hole at the last minute, which he does because he’s a 10th-overall pick in his prime, and that still counts for something, even in this day and age.

Successful pass for 5 yards, first down. Good blocking gives a WR enough time to get open enough on the edge to catch the ball and fall forward for a first down.

Failed pass. Cowboys blitz, and the blitzing defender beats the RB’s blocking attempt easily. Goff rushes the pass and throws a wobbler that falls short of its target. This appears to be a personality trait of his – Wilson would have scrambled, thrown it away, or taken the sack.

Failed pass. Goff had enough time cook an omelette in the pocket – he just threw an iffy pass and the WR didn’t do him any favors when the ball arrived.

Successful pass for 9 yards. Cowboys blitz, Rams pick it up, Goff has a pristine pocket in which to twiddle his thumbs as he waits for a WR to come open over the middle.

Successful run, QB sneak for a yard and the 4th down conversion. Rams O-line beats Cowboys D-line and Goff is more than a yard tall, simple as that.

Successful run for 9. This was a misdirection handoff 12 yards deep in the backfield, and it worked beautifully. Cowboys bit hard, nothing but green field in front of the runner. Credit goes to the play-calling on this one.

Explosive run for 15. I credit this in descending order to a Rams O-lineman absolutely mugging his defender in the backfield, the rest of the O-line making a lane, and finally to "Freight Train" Anderson, who is eerily quick for a man of his size, and laid a defender on the ground with a sick juke.

Successful pass for 9 yards. Blocking was once again good, and the WR was once again wide open.

Failed run, lost a yard. The Cowboys penetrated the line in multiple places, and Tolbert Anderson had to fight his way from -4 to -1.

Successful run, 11 yards. Blocking is good, and Anderson hits two successive juke moves to make it look even better. Tackling him does not look like very much fun.

Failed pass. Bootleg, blocking was good, pass was good, WR can’t hold onto it in the end zone.

Successful run for 4 yards. Blocking was fine (successful at the first level but failed at the second), and Anderson was tough to bring down.

Failed pass and FG. Blocking was good, WR was open in the end zone, Goff overthrew him slightly.

Drive 3 – 11:20 2Q (RP, P, P, RR, PR, R)

Successful outside run by Gurley for 4 yards. Cowboys got great penetration, but Gurley once again turns on the afterburners and makes good tackling angles look bad.

Explosive play action pass. Great protection, receiver wide open.

Explosive play action pass. Great protection, receiver wide open.

Successful pass by Goff for 11. This looks like a beautifully designed play to me. The O-line gives ground against the Cowboys, which clears them out for a short pass to the TE, who has two blockers in front of him.

Successful run by Gurley. Run blocking is excellent.

Successful 2-yard run by Anderson for first down. Blocking is excellent.

Failed end zone pass. Great protection, ball placement pretty darn good, through the TE’s hands.

Successful run by Anderson for 14 yards. The linebacker who should have made the tackle is out of position because the O-line widened the hole to about twice its previous width just as Anderson got there at full speed.

Successful short-yardage touchdown run by Anderson. The Rams’ O-line and Anderson collectively kick the door down and there’s nothing the Cowboys can do about it. This drive was tip-to-tail Pete Carroll football, executed flawlessly by our division rivals. Sickening.

Drive 4 – 6:05 2Q (RR, PP!, PR)

Successful run by Anderson for 6. Blocking was good.

Successful run by Anderson for 7. Blocking was good, and Anderson hits like a pallet of bricks dropped from a crane.

Failed pass, no yards. This was a bad decision by Goff once again trying to force a good play to materialize. He gets great protection but doesn’t like what he sees downfield. With his window closing, he throws to the opposite flats, giving the DB covering that WR ample time to see the ball coming and move in to make the tackle. This would have been a loss of yards if the WR hadn’t dropped the ball.

Failed pass, -4 yards. Play action, intended to be a screen pass to the RB leaking out of the backfield. My interpretation is that this play failed because Goff threw a duck, which gave a defender time to break off his pass rush and get hands on Gurley, but if you wanted to blame play design or one of the screen blockers not sufficiently handling his man, I wouldn’t stop you.

The Rams are in 3rd and 14, their only crap yardage of the night. Goff throws an awful pass and the WR trips. Cowboys commit an illegal hands to the face penalty, free first down. You can call it ticky-tack, but it happened, and it happened right in front of the ref.

Successful pass for 15. Great blocking, excellent bang-bang throw by Gurley.

Successful run for 35 yards by Gurley, touchdown. You can let the O-line blow your D-line to smithereens or you can let your DBs get out of position, but when Gurley has the ball, you cannot do both.

Drive 5 – 14:07 3Q (RPP, R, RRF)

Successful run by Gurley for 6. The O-line makes room, Gurley uses it.

Failed pass. Great protection, WR is barely open, Goff is barely accurate, WR can’t hang on.

Explosive pass. Great protection, WR is wide open.

Explosive run. Blocking is mostly good, and Gurley’s speed breaks the ankles of the one defender left to beat at the line of scrimmage. What Gurley has (and what I hope Penny develops) is the ability to go from standing still to "fast" without a noticeable delay.

Successful run by Anderson. Blocking is good, Anderson is the embodiment of the formula "force equals mass multiplied by acceleration", and a Cowboys linebacker is once again slightly out of position.

Failed run by Anderson. Blocking was merely "fine", and a shoestring tackle brings down Anderson for 1.

Fumble by Goff – Whatever happened in the backfield was such an abortive disaster that I can’t even tell what it was supposed to be, just how it ended – with Goff falling on the ball. Field goal.

Drive 6 – 5:20 3Q (RP, RPP)

Mediocre run by Gurley for 3. Blocking was fine, run was fine, both teams did their job.

Explosive pass. Great blocking, wide-open WR.

Successful run by Gurley for 8. Good blocking, and the Cowboys’ second level is once again just a titch slow to the spot. Linebacker Jaylon Smith (#54) keeps drawing my eye as the guy who’s never where I’m sure Kris Richard wants him to be.

Failed pass. Good protection, Goff gets the snap, immediately winds up and inexplicably flings it into the middle of nowhere. Don’t ask me.

Failed pass. Good protection, wide-open WR, Goff air mails it. Bafflingly bad accuracy. Punt.

Drive 7 – 14:52 4Q (RR, RR, P, RPR, RRRR)

Successful run for 9 yards. Blocking was good on a jet sweep, and the Cowboys once again showed real weakness in their back-seven run support in failing to get to the outside to contain.

Successful run for 3 yards, first down. Cowboys out-muscled in the interior of the line.

Successful run for 7 yards. Blocking is good enough, Jaylon Smith once again not where he should be, and Anderson once again showing that big men can have quick feet.

Successful run for 9 yards. Blocking is great, and Anderson cements his status as the last thing linebackers want to see rumbling downhill in their direction.

Successful pass for a first down. The Rams clown the Cowboys again – just like they did on Drive 3, a couple blockers deliberately let their blocks slip to pull the Cowboys forward, and one of them (a WR) leaks out for a catch. Vander Esch is out of position and the play goes for a big gain.

Failed run for 1 yard. The Cowboys read this one all the way from snap to tackle.

Successful pass for 7 yards. Great protection, and a wide open WR.

Successful run for 5 yards, first down. Viciously quick jet sweep by a Rams WR. The only way the Cowboys could have stopped it was to diagnose it immediately. They did not.

Failed run for 1 yard. Blocking opened a smidgen of a hole, and credit goes to the Cowboys D-line for slamming that door shut immediately.

Successful run for 5 yards. Good blocking, and Anderson unloads on the sorry motherfucker forced to make the tackle.

Failed run, QB sneak for no gain.

Successful 1 yard run, touchdown. Anderson was an unstoppable torpedo, but he didn’t even meet that much resistance. Replays showed the O-line had once again gone before him to lay waste to all opposition.