Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 30, 2017 at 12:50 PM
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LOS ANGELES RAMS (2-1) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (2-1)

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium, TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (Field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: This is the 25th regular-season meeting between the teams with the Cowboys holding a 13-11 edge. Dallas has won the past three meetings, including a 34-31 victory in the most recent meeting in 2014. The teams have split eight postseason meeting, all during a 13-season span from 1973-85 during the Rams' first tenure in Los Angeles. There were seven meetings during the Rams' stay in St. Louis with Dallas prevailing five times.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while dealing with the distraction of his future status due to the court case involving his six-game suspension for a domestic violence incident. Going up against the Rams could be the tonic he needs with Los Angeles ranked 29th in rushing defense (139.0 yards per game) despite the presence of standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald. While Elliott searches for his 2016 form, second-year quarterback Dak Prescott accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in Monday's win over the Arizona Cardinals and has thrown just two interceptions in 107 attempts. The Rams have notched 10 sacks in three games but also sprung a few leaks while giving up 19 fourth-quarter points in a 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 21.

The Rams have their own standout running back in Todd Gurley and he is off to a better start with 241 rushing yards and six total touchdowns (four rushing, two passing). But the main reason why Los Angeles is averaging a league-best 35.7 points and ranks seventh in total offense (374.7) is the improvement displayed by second-year quarterback Jared Goff. The first overall pick in 2016 is thriving under the progressive system overseen by coach Sean McVay and is completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 817 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception. The Cowboys are 18th in defending the pass (227.7 yards per game) and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is running rampant with a league-best 6.5 sacks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Rams DT Aaron Donald vs. Cowboys G Zach Martin

Donald is an elite lineman still working into football shape after his training camp holdout and a breakout game looms on the horizon. He has five tackles and one sack in two games and the two-time Pro Bowler will certainly have the attention of the Cowboys. Martin is a top-notch guard who is considered one of the top run-blocking linemen in the NFL. Martin is one of the few guards in the NFL who can legitimately match up one-on-one with Donald.

Rams WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods vs. Cowboys CBs Orlando Scandrick and Jourdan Lewis

Watkins is looking to be a good fit with 13 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns after being acquired from the Buffalo Bills and he and Woods (10 for 169) have combined for nine receptions of 20 or more yards. Woods, who has five such catches, good be the main target against the Cowboys depending on how well Watkins bounces back from a concussion suffered against the 49ers. Scandrick is playing with a broken left hand and provides the Dallas secondary with a veteran awareness of how a young quarterback like Jared Goff might attack. Lewis is a rookie from Michigan that is in line for increased playing time, particularly if starter Nolan Carroll (concussion) misses the game.

FRIDAY INJURY REPORT

LOS ANGELES RAMS

--Out: S Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)

--Questionable: S Cody Davis (quadricep), C John Sullivan (hip)

DALLAS COWBOYS

--Questionable: CB Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring), CB Nolan Carroll (concussion), S Kavon Frazier (knee), G Chaz Green (hip), LB Anthony Hitchens (knee), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), DT Stephen Paea (knee)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. The fourth-year-pro is off to a superb start with an NFL-best 6.5 sacks. He posted a career-high three sacks in Monday's victory over Arizona to become the first Dallas player to notch three in a game since DeMarcus Ware in 2011. Lawrence was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance and wasn't the least bit impressed. "It don't mean nothing," Lawrence said. "We're on to the next week already, you know what I'm saying." Lawrence's play is speaking loudly as he is on pace to shatter his career-best eight-sack campaign of 2015. He struggled with back pain that sabotaged his performance last season but the former Boise State standout has raised his level of play at a superb time because he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. "I mean, it's a contract year, so what?" Lawrence said. "I want to be here forever. This year don't define me as a player."

FAST FACTS: Rams QB Jared Goff ranks third in the NFL with a 118.2 rating, behind only Kansas City's Alex Smith (132.7) and New England's Tom Brady (121.5). WR Robert Woods had 108 yards versus the 49ers for his fourth career 100-yard receiving game -- the fifth-year pro has never had more than one in a season. DE Robert Quinn's 17 forced fumbles are the most in the NFL since start of 2013 campaign. LB Alec Ogletree has 17 tackles and two forced fumbles in two career games against Dallas. ... Cowboys WR Dez Bryant leads NFL in 63 touchdown receptions since start of 2011 season. TE Jason Witten has a scoring reception in three of his past four home games. MLB Sean Lee ranks second in NFL with 298 tackles since start of 2015 season. CB Orlando Scandrick has three sacks and three forced fumbles in past eight home games.

PREDICTION: The Rams are an improved team but their wins are against the Colts and 49ers and they are stepping up in class with the visit to the Cowboys. It's about time for Ezekiel Elliott to look more like last season's version and prove to be more than Los Angeles can handle.

OUR PICK: Cowboys, 34-27.

--Mike Sullivan

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