Who has the edge in NFC matchup in Cow­boys vs. Rams?

Star-Telegram - - Sports - BY CLARENCE E. HILL JR. [email protected]­gram.com

QUAR­TER­BACKS

Cow­boys: Dak Prescott has been bet­ter than Rams QB Jared Goff since they came into the league. He has more wins. He has more come­back vic­to­ries. And now he is go­ing to be back to where he made his NFL de­but. Prescott is ready for his mo­ment.

Rams: Goff has a lot to prove in his first play­off game, es­pe­cially after a late-sea­son slump that in­cluded a three-week stretch that re­sulted in just one touch­down with six in­ter­cep­tions. Through the first 11 weeks of the sea­son, Goff was the NFL’s 3rd-high­est-rated passer (113.5). In the fi­nal six weeks, though, he ranked 25th (74.8).

Edge: Cow­boys

RUN­NING BACKS

Cow­boys: Ezekiel El­liott should head into the game with a lit­tle ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion. He led the NFL with 1,434 yards on 304 car­ries but it was Todd Gur­ley of the Rams who was named first team all-pro. El­liott is go­ing to need a sig­na­ture per­for­mance as a run­ner, re­ceiver and chain mover to con­trol the clock and put the Cow­boy over the top.

Rams: Gur­ley has the man­tle right now as the league’s best back for his abil­i­ties as a run­ner and re­ceiver. He scored a league-high 21 touch­downs. But he has been side­lined for four weeks with a sprained knee. He could be a lit­tle rusty. Look for C.J. Anderson to get some car­ries to take some pres­sure of Gur­ley.

Edge: Cow­boys

WIDE RE­CEIVER/TIGHT END

Cow­boys: Dal­las comes into the game hob­bled with slot re­ceiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jar­win nurs­ing high an­kle sprains. Both are ex­pected to play but they won’t be 100 per­cent. That puts pres­sure on Tavon Austin to step up in the slot and Amari Cooper to be a game-breaker and chain mover.

Rams: LA is not the same out­side with­out Cooper Kupp. But no one is cry­ing for Goff. Re­ceivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are big time down­field threats. Both had over 1,200 yards re­ceiv­ing. Josh Reynolds has filled in for Kupp.

Edge: Rams

OF­FEN­SIVE LINE

Cow­boys: Dal­las is re­gain­ing some bod­ies up front with guard Xavier Su’a-Fila ready to go after miss­ing the wild-card game with a sprained an­kle. Will the Cow­boys start him or rookie Con­nor Wil­liams at LG to face DT Aaron Don­ald? Pro Bowl LT Ty­ron Smith and Pro Bowl RG Zack Martin will need to re­gain their dom­i­nance.

Rams: The Rams of­fen­sive line has been the pic­ture of health and con­ti­nu­ity. All five starters have started in ev­ery game this sea­son. They are the rea­son the run­ning game showed no let up when Anderson re­placed an in­jured Gur­ley. The Rams are led up front by left tackle An­drew Whit­worth and right tackle Rob Haven­stein. Both are among the best at what they do in the league. But they are go­ing to have their hands full with DeMar­cus Lawrence and Randy Gre­gory.

Edge: Rams

DE­FEN­SIVE LINE

Cow­boys: De­fen­sive end DeMar­cus Lawrence sets the tone for this group up front and is a re­lent­less force as a rusher and run­stop­per. He and DE Randy Gre­gory will have to win in a hurry against the Rams be­cause Goff gets the ball out of hands so quickly. Tackles Ant­waun Woods and Maliek Collins will have to stop the run first.

Rams: De­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald is a lead­ing can­di­date for MVP. He led the league with 20.5 sacks. He will be a hand­ful for Su’a–Fila or Wil­liams. But he is the lone star up front. Don­ald is flanked on the line by ends Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brock­ers. They are big­time names, but not al­ways pro­duc­tive. The Rams give up al­most 5 yards per carry on the ground. El­liott will try to gash them.

Edge: Cow­boys

LINEBACK­ERS

Cow­boys: Leighton Vander Esch and Jay­lon Smith will have to get it done against the Rams as forces in the run game and pos­si­bly cov­er­ing Gur­ley out of the back­field on pass­ing downs. The Rams are the best play-ac­tion team in the league and these ag­gres­sive young­sters will have to read their keys and be pa­tient. The two­some com­bined for 262 tackles in 2018.

Rams: The Rams lineback­ers are the weak link on the team. Again, they are part of the rea­son why the de­fense gives up al­most 5 yards per carry against the run. Cory Lit­tle­ton is the best of the bunch with a team-lead­ing 125 tackles. Mark Bar­ron is the big­gest name, but the for­mer Alabama star is a con­verted safety.

Edge: Cow­boys

SEC­ONDARY

Cow­boys: It’s all hands on deck for the Cow­boys cor­ner­backs. Chido Awuzie, By­ron Jones, An­thony Browns and Jor­dan Lewis will all see ac­tion. There is a good chance Brown or Lewis might be as­signed with cov­er­ing Gur­ley out of the back­field. The key for oth­ers is not to give up any big plays. The Cow­boys gave up the sec­ond­fewest in the league, though they did get burned four times by the Sea­hawks.

Rams: The Rams have big-name cor­ner­backs in Mar­cus Pe­ters and Aquib Talib. But they are also sus­cep­ti­ble to the big play. Both gam­ble a lot, which should play right into the hands of route-run­ning spe­cial­ist Cooper. Nick­ell Robey-Coleman is a solid slot cor­ner who must be up to the task against a hob­bled Beasley. Edge: Dal­las

SPECIAL TEAMS

Cow­boys: Austin heads into this game with the mo­men­tum of his big per­for­mance in the wild­card and mo­ti­va­tion to make his for­mer team pay. He is an x-fac­tor for the Cow­boys. But con­cern re­mains for kicker Brett Ma­her, who missed a kick in the wild-card game and is less than au­to­matic from un­der 40 yards, de­spite mak­ing 29 of 36 field goals this sea­son. Do you trust him?

Rams: The Rams don’t have much of a re­turn game. But they haven’t re­ally needed one with their high pow­ered of­fense. But they do a kicker they can trust in Greg Zuer­lein, who made 27 of 31 field goals in 2018. Punter Johnny Hecker is as than solid as any­one in the league, av­er­ag­ing 46.3 an at­tempt.

Edge: Rams

COACHES

Cow­boys: Ja­son Gar­rett gets credit for get­ting into the play­offs and win­ning a wild-card game after a 3-5 start to the sea­son. But he is hop­ing to be­come the first Cow­boys coach to ad­vance past the di­vi­sional game for the time since Barry Switzer in 1995.

Rams: Sean McVay is the coach ev­ery­one wants or at least wants some­one like. Two teams have al­ready hired coaches con­nected to McVay and his of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor is ex­pected to get the Ben­gals job. McVay is the new nor­mal in the NFL. But he has yet to win a play­off game. Will he get the first of many on Saturday?

Edge: Rams

IN­TAN­GI­BLES

Cow­boys: The Cow­boys were good on the road in the se­cond half of the sea­son, win­ning three of their last four away from home. But this will not be a true road game. The Cow­boys have long had a huge pres­ence in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and half the sta­dium could be filled with Cow­boys fans.

Rams: The Rams didn’t han­dle the bye well last year and got beat by the At­lanta Fal­cons in the di­vi­sional play­offs. Will they be rusty again? WilL Gur­ley be rusty after sit­ting out four weeks. And can Goff re­gain his magic? The high-fly­ing Rams come into the game with ques­tions.

Edge: Dal­las

MICHAEL AINSWORTH AP

The Rams’ Todd Gur­ley, left, and Cow­boys’ Ezekiel El­liott, right, swap jer­seys after a game, in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

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