Heading into Saturday’s Divisional round matchup between the Rams and Cowboys, one of the main storylines was how would Los Angeles’ run defense hold up against Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.
The Rams flipped that notion on its head Saturday night, using a punishing ground attack to control the ball and the clock en route to a 20-7 victory over the Cowboys. With the win, the Rams will play next weekend for the opportunity to play in Super Bowl LIII.
In the first half alone, the Rams won time of possession 20:12 to 9:48 — illustrating just how well the offense was humming with the two-headed monster of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.
Los Angeles did not punt at all in the first half, with the offense scoring on its first four drives. Starting with the ball, L.A. got into the red zone, but had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein to take an early 3-0 lead.
The Cowboys answered with a touchdown of their own — with the help of a Rams self-inflicted wound. After running back Ezekiel Elliott converted a 4th-and-1 with a five-yard carry, cornerback Marcus Peters was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving Dallas 15 yards for free. On the next play, quarterback Dak Prescott hit wide receiver Amari Cooper over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown, giving Dallas a 7-3 lead.
The Rams cut into that with another Zuerlein field goal from inside the red zone — this one after L.A. could not get into the end zone on 3rd-and-goal from the five. The 16-play drive, however, did take 7:23 off the clock, likely wearing down the Dallas defense.
After the Los Angeles defense forced a punt, the offense went right to work and this time finished a red-zone possession with a trip to the end zone. Quarterback Jared Goff completed three consecutive passes to wideout Brandin Cooks, wideout Robert Woods, and tight end Tyler Higbee to move L.A. deep into Dallas territory.
From there, it was all about the run. Anderson took a 14-yard run up the middle, getting down to the one-yard line. Going no huddle, L.A. let Anderson finish it off, giving him a carry on the next play that he took into the end zone for a touchdown.
With a 13-7 lead, the Rams defense forced a three-and-out, getting the offense the ball back at the home team’s 36. Anderson started off the possession with a pair of runs for six and seven yards, respectively. And while the offense had 3rd-and-14, Dallas bailed the unit out with an illegal hands to the face penalty, setting L.A. up with a first down at midfield. Goff then completed a 15-yard pass to Cooks before Gurley burst through the middle for a 35-yard touchdown run, putting Los Angeles up 20-7.
That score held through halftime — though Zuerlein did attempt a 63-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. The kick had the distance, but ended up wide right.
In the second half, Los Angeles’ defense started things off with a three-and-out, getting the offense the ball back within a minute of the of the third quarter beginning.
The Rams’ offense was able to get into Dallas territory once again, with a 21-yard reception by Cooks and a 18-yard run by Gurley the key plays on the possession. Zuerlein nailed a 44-yard field goal to give Los Angeles a 23-7 lead.
While the Rams had been in control for much of the game to that point, the Cowboys were able to get back on the board on their next possession. Dallas converted another 4th-and-1 opportunity with a run from Elliott. And while a hold induced by Aaron Donald put the Cowboys in 1st-and-20, Prescott was able to evade pressure in the backfield to hit wide receiver Michael Gallup with a 44-yard pass to set the Cowboys up with 1st-and-goal at the L.A. two.
Elliott was able to get the visitors in the end zone a couple plays later. And then Prescott hit Cooper in the end zone for a two-point conversion, cutting Los Angeles’ lead to 23-15.
After the Rams had to punt for the first time all game, Dallas had an opportunity to put points on the board in L.A. territory. But Los Angeles’ defense stuffed Elliott on 4th-and-1 at the home team’s 35 to get a turnover on downs at the start of the fourth quarter.
Anderson once again powered the Rams down into the red zone, though Cooks also ran a critical jet sweep five yards on 3rd-and-2 deep in Dallas territory. Goff tried to QB sneak it into the end zone on 3rd-and-goal from the Cowboys’ one, but was stopped short. But it was no matter, as Anderson took in a fourth-down carry for his second touchdown of the game.
With Anderson’s yards on that drive, the Rams had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
While Dallas quickly entered L.A. territory and kept their drive alive with a two-yard Prescott run on 4th-and-1, the visitors drive took a lot of time off the clock. But they were able to get another fourth-down conversion with a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone by Aqib Talib.
Two plays later, Prescott was able to run it into the end zone on a sprint-option. With the extra point, the Rams led 30-22 with 2:11 left in the contest.
The Cowboys elected to kick it deep, setting the Rams up at their own 25-yard line after a touchback. Dallas had all three timeouts, and used one after a short Gurley run. Anderson then carried for two yards, setting up 3rd-and-7 at the two-minute warning. That’s when Goff faked left, rolled to his right, and then ran it for 11 yards for a key first down at the L.A. 39. Plus the QB stayed in bounds, inducing Dallas to take its second timeout.
Anderson took the next carry for five yards, forcing the Cowboys to use their final timeout. Anderson then took another carry six yards, getting a first down to put the game away.
The Rams will find out their NFC Championship Game opponent tomorrow — facing the winner of Saints-Eagles.