Rams suc­ceed­ing with clever of­fense and tough­ness

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - By Greg Beacham

THOU­SAND OAKS >> Mar­cus Peters was in Amari Cooper’s face from the Cow­boys’ open­ing drive un­til the postgame hand­shakes, where the Los An­ge­les Rams cor­ner­back gave one last shove to the Dal­las re­ceiver.

Peters didn’t win all of his matchups with Cooper. In fact, his un­nec­es­sary rough­ness penalty from his first scrap with Cooper led di­rectly to Dal­las’ first touch­down in the clubs’ di­vi­sional play­off game Sat­ur­day night.

But for bet­ter or worse, Peters also ex­em­pli­fied his team’s de­ter­mi­na­tion not to be pushed around by any­one — and some­times, they’ll even start the fights.

With their 30-22 vic­tory over the Cow­boys, the Rams (14-3) are headed to the NFC cham­pi­onship game with an in­cen­di­ary at­ti­tude and re­newed proof of their tough­ness on both sides of the ball.

“Our sense of fo­cus and the sense of ur­gency have gone up tremen­dously,” guard Rodger Saf­fold said Sun­day while the Rams waited to find out who they would play.

The Rams have built a rep­u­ta­tion for cere­bral, clever play dur­ing two sea­sons of coach Sean McVay’s in­flu­en­tial of­fen­sive schemes. But one big dif­fer­ence be­tween last sea­son’s team, which lost its first play­off game, and this sea­son’s NFC cham­pi­onship­bound squad is the Rams’ provoca­tive new de­fen­sive play­ers, in­clud­ing Peters and fel­low cor­ner­back Aqib Talib, along with a teamwide em­brace of phys­i­cal, dis­rup­tive play.

These Rams have an at­ti­tude, and it’s tak­ing them far: At about the same time Peters and Cooper were shov­ing each other in­stead of shak­ing hands, Talib in­ter­rupted Jared Goff’s postgame in­ter­view with a joy­ous ex­ple­tive on live tele­vi­sion.

Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ex­ploits aside, the Rams are in their first NFC ti­tle game in 17 years be­cause of the way they man­han­dled the Cow­boys on both sides of the line. Dal­las en­tered the Coli­seum with one of the NFL’s top rush­ing de­fenses along with their own pow­er­ful rush­ing of­fense led by NFL rush­ing cham­pion Ezekiel El­liott, but the Rams dom­i­nated on the ground.

Los An­ge­les’ rush­ing of­fense was his­tor­i­cally good, with C.J. An­der­son and Todd Gur­ley both top­ping 100 yards rush­ing on the way to a fran­chise-record 273. Both backs gave the credit to their of­fen­sive line, which led the Rams to av­er­age a whop­ping 5.7 yards per carry.

The Rams’ de­fense spent most of the first half on the side­line watch­ing as their of­fen­sive line carved chunks out of the Dal­las de­fense. Los An­ge­les edge rusher Dante Fowler could only smile when left tackle An­drew Whit­worth led the block­ing for Gur­ley’s 35yard touch­down run.

“They played very phys­i­cal, lights out,” Fowler said. “The in­ten­sity that Whit­worth brought, that set the tone. Es­pe­cially with that touch­down that Gur­ley had, I think that was the real tone-set­ter. That was the dif­fer­ence in the game. If you really look at the play, the block that Whit­worth made for the touch­down, that set the tone. That’s when I knew we were go­ing to win the game.”

When the Rams’ de­fense fi­nally got on the field, they showed tough­ness of their own. El­liott man­aged just 47 yards on 20 car­ries, ad­mit­ting after­ward that the Rams “dom­i­nated us up front.”

The Rams’ of­fen­sive line has been re­spected as one of the NFL’s best for the past two years while Gur­ley reigned as one of the NFL’s best run­ning backs, yet the five line­men rel­ished the chance to show what they could do in the ground game.

“The coaches say­ing they would just put it on our back and let us do our thing, that gave us a huge con­fi­dence boost and that shared sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to just go out there and work a lit­tle bit harder on this one,” Saf­fold said.

More AP NFL: https://ap­news.com/NFL and https:// twit­ter.com/AP—NFL

MARK J. TERRILL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Los An­ge­les Rams de­fen­sive end Michael Brock­ers cel­e­brates dur­ing the sec­ond half in an NFL di­vi­sional foot­ball play­off game against the Dal­las Cow­boys Sat­ur­day in Los An­ge­les.

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