Rams’ of­fense put up a wall the Cow­boys just couldn’t cross

The Fresno Bee - - Front Page - BY SAM FARMER

What caused the D.C. shut­down?

If D.C. stood for the Dal­las Cow­boys on Satur­day night, the cul­prit was the wall.

An im­pen­e­tra­ble mov­ing bar­rier of Rams block­ers shoved aside the vaunted Cow­boys de­fense, run­ning roughshod over a col­lec­tion of tack­lers who had just dom­i­nated the No. 1 ground game in foot­ball.

The Rams ran for a stag­ger­ing 273 yards in their 30-22 vic­tory over the Cow­boys, mov­ing to within one vic­tory of the Su­per Bowl with a for­mula they have used in their last three games.

Af­ter the loss to Philadel­phia in Week 15, coach Sean McVay es­sen­tially said the team was go­ing to go find a for­mula that wins, and wins in the crunch time of De­cem­ber and Jan­uary. That means pound­ing the ball. For­get that noise about McVay be­ing the quar­ter­back whis­perer. He re­minded ev­ery­one Satur­day night that he’s nim­ble and flex­i­ble with his game plans, and that he’s will­ing to ad­just and change when nec­es­sary.

All the talk be­fore this di­vi­sional play­off game was about how badly Ezekiel El­liott and the Cow­boys would tram­ple the Rams de­fense, ranked 23rd against the run.

In­stead, it was the Rams who left cleat marks on the Cow­boys’ heart. It was the first time in Rams post­sea­son his­tory they had two 100-yard rush­ers in a game.

C.J. An­der­son had 123 yards in 23 car­ries and two touch­downs, and Todd Gur­ley fin­ished with 115 in 16 car­ries and one touch­down.

Af­ter five sea­sons with Den­ver in which he won a Su­per Bowl and played in a Pro Bowl, An­der­son was re­leased by the Bron­cos af­ter last sea­son and bounced from Carolina to Oak­land and fi­nally the Rams be­fore he could truly re­sume his ca­reer. And in the build­ing Satur­day was his old quar­ter­back, Pey­ton Man­ning, who brought his son to the game when the boy re­quested to see the Rams.

“I guess it was my turn,” An­der­son said of part­ing ways with Den­ver. “I was talk­ing to

AF­TER THE LOSS TO PHILADEL­PHIA, COACH SEAN MCVAY ES­SEN­TIALLY SAID THE TEAM WAS GO­ING TO GO FIND A FOR­MULA THAT WINS IN THE CRUNCH TIME OF DE­CEM­BER AND JAN­UARY. THAT MEANS POUND­ING THE BALL.

Pey­ton, he was up here to­day, and just hav­ing some con­ver­sa­tions with him about when he got re­leased from the (In­di­anapo­lis) Colts. He felt like he could still play, and he came to Den­ver and lit it up. Kind of feels like that.”

Call him Rip­per An­der­son. He ran with such con­fi­dence, on one long carry he was run out of bounds on the Dal­las side­line, then com­i­cally plopped down on the Cow­boys bench for a breather, brack­eted by two star­tled of­fen­sive line­men.

It was not sup­posed to go this way. Dal­las was go­ing to gob­ble up the clock, keep the high-oc­tane Rams of­fense stand­ing on the side­line with hands on hips and grind out the Cow­boys’ first sec­ond-round vic­tory since the 1995 sea­son.

But the Rams of­fen­sive line had some­thing else in mind. That unit – An­drew Whit­worth, Rodger Saf­fold, John Sul­li­van, Austin Blythe and Rob Haven­stein – blew open Tex­as­sized holes in a Dal­las de­fense that lim­ited the top-ranked Seat­tle run­ning game to 73 yards in a wild-card win. That was less than half the Sea­hawks’ 160-yard av­er­age.

“When we watched the tape and were get­ting ready for (the Cow­boys), we felt we were go­ing to be able to come out and ex­e­cute ex­actly how we did tonight,” Sul­li­van said. “Whereas ev­ery­body is happy the game went the way it did, no­body is sur­prised. We ex­pected to go do that.”

The Rams rushed for 170 yards in the first half, the most the Cow­boys have sur­ren­dered in a half since at least 2000. Com­ing into Satur­day night, 178 yards was the most Dal­las had given up on the ground in a game.

L.A. made the Cow­boys de­fen­sive front look as soft as the rain-soaked turf. Ac­tu­ally, the field it­self wasn’t as slip­pery or loose as it might have been, but the side­lines were as muddy as Woodstock.

An­der­son has been an un­be­liev­able find for the Rams, picked up af­ter Gur­ley was in­jured in the Week 15 loss to Philadel­phia. He ran for 167 and 132 yards in the fi­nal two games, against Ari­zona and San Francisco, and most im­por­tant, af­forded the Rams the luxury of let­ting Gur­ley re­cover.

Satur­day night, An­der­son was like the butt end of a swing­ing log, low­er­ing his shoul­der and blast­ing into tack­lers with pun­ish­ing aban­don.

If Gur­ley had any rust, it sloughed off quickly, as he glided his way to a 35-yard touch­down run late in the first half.

It was only a cou­ple of years ago that the Rams had the worst of­fen­sive line in the league, or close to it.

Then, in with the McVay regime came Whit­worth and Sul­li­van, who sparked a dra­matic re­vival, cou­pled with a re­tooled of­fense that played to the strengths of Gur­ley and quar­ter­back Jared Goff. The turn­around was dra­matic and al­most in­ex­pli­ca­ble.

This sea­son, the Rams had the rare dis­tinc­tion of the same five starters through­out the sea­son. That’s a huge com­po­nent of suc­cess.

The Fox broad­cast­ers noted that Whit­worth, Saf­fold and Sul­li­van have more than 400 starts among them, yet a com­bined to­tal of one play­off vic­tory. Whit­worth, who spent the bulk of his ca­reer in Cincin­nati, came into the Cow­boys game 0-7 in the post­sea­son.

Now, the Rams are one win away from the Su­per Bowl.

“This is my first play­off win ever,” re­ceiver Josh Reynolds said, shak­ing his head.

“This is just sur­real.”

GINA FERAZZI Los An­ge­les Times

Be­hind a stout of­fen­sive line, Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley ran for 115 yards in 16 car­ries and a touch­down against the Dal­las Cow­boys on Satur­day. The Rams rushed for 170 yards in the first half.

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