The Rams will be on the road for the second-straight week this Sunday as they travel to Arlington to take on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. The Week 4 contest brings together two teams that share a rich history and rivalry together, dating back to their first game in 1960.
"I've always been a fan of the game [and] you have an appreciation for what's taken place before," first-year head coach Sean McVay said of the history between teams. "I think that embracing that history is part of it, [but] I also think it's important to know that this is a storied franchise on both ends and we've got a great challenge."
The series has spanned 57 years and 32 games, but Sunday will mark the first regular-season since 2014, when the Cowboys mounted a comeback to defeat the Rams 34-31.
However, this season's contest will look a bit different from the last. Dallas' offense now features the dynamic duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott and the team is coming off a 13-3 finish, while Los Angeles enters the game under a different coaching staff and with many new faces on both sides of the ball.
"What coach Garrett's done with his team, it's going to be a great challenge and an excellent atmosphere," McVay said. "And I know our guys are looking forward to it."
One thing the two teams will have in common entering Week 4 is their records, as both the Cowboys and the Rams will look to improve to 3-1. But after recording a 4-12 record last year, it's Los Angeles that has the most to prove. Not only does the team sit in sole possession of the top spot in the NFC West, but also the offense as a whole has shown immense improvement under McVay.
"We know that we're going to have to be at our best to get our third win against an excellent Cowboys team," he said. "They go 13-3 last year, 7-1 at home, with great road win for them this week. I've got a lot of respect for this organization and head coach Jason Garrett, just from having gone against them a couple times a year, so it's going to be a great challenge for us."
The tough matchup against the Cowboys — highly regarded as one of the league's top-tier programs — should provide a benchmark test of sorts for the Rams as they enter the second quarter of the season.
"It's an opportunity for us to go up against a great team and see where we are and how far we have come," Gurley said. "Every week you have to come with it and if you can finish, this is the first quarter of the season. If you can finish 3-1, you are going to be right where you want to be."
The Rams are currently the league's highest-scoring team through three games with 107 points and quarterback Jared Goff has looked vastly improved over his rookie season. Goff enters Sunday's game with 817 passing yards, five touchdowns and just one interception, while running back Todd Gurley was named September's NFC Offensive Player of the Month after recording an 149-yard, three touchdown performance in Week 3.
An improved receiving corps and offensive line has also bolstered the offense through the addition of dynamic playmakers like Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins as well as strong veterans on the line like center John Sullivan and left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
And though the Cowboys strong suit is their offense, the Rams will still need to be ready for a tough Dallas defense. On the offensive line, expect the right side — comprised of right guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein — to be challenged by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. The NFC Defensive Player of the Month has 6.5 sacks this season and has been one of the most consistent players on the Cowboys' defensive line.
"I think when you just flip on the tape, he's a scary player," McVay said. "Excellent effort, he's got a variety of ways that he can get to the quarterback and they move him around, I think he plays the run very well as well. He's done a great job by winning his one-on-ones and that's what the great players in this league do and he's certainly playing like that right now."
And although Gurley may not need to worry about linebacker Sean Lee — who will be a gametime decision for Sunday — middle linebacker Jaylon Smith is also a dominant force on the Dallas defense. In Monday night's game against the Cardinals, Smith recorded seven tackles and a forced fumble.
In the secondary, Rams' receivers will face a young, but challenging group of cornerbacks and safeties including Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods. The duo combined for nine tackles and two pass deflections in Week 3.
"I mean, they do a lot of different things. They're very multiple and have changed some of the stuff they've done," Goff said. "They mix up coverages, mix up fronts, mix up blitzes and do a good job of it. I think they're talented in all three phases."
"[They're] a good defense, we see them flying around," Woods said. "A fast defense and they're able to just disguise [their coverages]. They play solid, fly to the ball and they are a fast group of guys that like to attack the quarterback and attack the ball."
While Dallas' does boast a strong defense, the real challenge for the Rams does not lie with their offense. Instead, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the Los Angeles defense will have to answer a tough question come Sunday: Can the Rams defense stop Prescott and a high-powered Cowboys' offense?
"[It's] a premiere challenge," defensive coordinator and former Cowboys' head coach Wade Phillips said. "You know, when you're playing a really good offensive team, that's when you have to step up and be a really good defensive team. I think we'll get better in some of the areas that we need to, but we'll find out."
The Rams' defense has been a bit up-and-down this season, starting off the season on a high against the Colts, but allowing a combined 66 points and 806 yards in their last two games. But many players, like defensive tackle Aaron Donald, do not seem worried.
"I feel like it wasn't as bad as we thought," Donald said of last week's performance against the 49ers. "We definitely made a lot of mistakes here and there. But it's nothing that we can't clean up. And I'd rather it happen now — early — than later. So we're going to be good."
Fortunately for the Rams this week, outside linebacker Connor Barwin has a lot of experience playing against the Cowboys and had some tips on how to stop the formidable Dallas' offense, led by Prescott and Elliott.
"In my experience last year, the quarterback is the real deal," Barwin said. "He can really do it all. He can make plays from outside the pocket, he can make plays from inside the pocket and then he can make plays with his feet. So we will have to be at our best against him."
"It's a common theme — You stop them, you stop them, and then a guy gets out of their gap and Ezekiel will crease you for a 40-yard run," he continued. " We would play really well against him at times, but as soon as one guy makes a mistake up front, Ezekiel is great at getting north very quickly. So it's about being focused and physical for the entire game, for 60 snaps not 50 snaps and that is how you stop the run."
In the secondary, one matchup to watch this week will be between cornerback Trumaine Johnson and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Though Dallas has a slew of other offensive weapons, including tight end Jason Witten, stopping Bryant will be a No. 1 priority for the Rams and Johnson seemed ready for the challenge after practice on Thursday.
"He's a competitor and he's a dog," Johnson said. "I have been playing Dez since I have been in the league and I will have to be aggressive with him, I have to be ready to compete and it's going to be fun. I can't wait."
Overall, Week 4 should be one of the toughest games the Rams have faced thus far and could come down to a series of key matchups on both sides. Kickoff for the Rams vs. Cowboys is set for 10 A.M. To find out where you can watch the contest, click here.