Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams practicing before their game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Rams held their second practice of the week on Thursday afternoon at Cal Lutheran. On Sunday, Los Angeles will match up with Dallas in a game defensive coordinator Wade Phillips referred to as "a premier challenge" for the team — one that allows the Rams to compete against one of the league's top-tier programs.
Wide receivers Tavon Austin and Sammy Watkins were full participants in practice this afternoon after being placed in concussion protocol after Thursday night's game against the Niners. Though Austin and Watkins were limited in Wednesday's session, head coach Sean McVay said both wideouts will be "good to go" come Sunday.
Center John Sullivan — who left last week's game early with a groin injury — was back on the field on Thursday, participating in a limited number of reps. Safety Lamarcus Joyner was the only player who did not participate in practice as he continues to rehab from a hamstring injury.
GURLEY'S JUST GETTING STARTED
It has been a pretty good month for running back Todd Gurley.
Not only does he lead the conference in yards from scrimmage — with 381 recorded in three games — but he is also tied at No. 1 in the NFL with six touchdowns.
Gurley was rewarded for his performance Thursday morning, as he was named September's NFC Offensive Player of the Month. But when asked how he felt about the honor, the running back did not immediately express his excitement over his success. Instead, Gurley said winning Player of the Month amounts to a collective honor.
"Obviously it's a great accomplishment," he said. "But it's a team award. I have to give it to the offensive line for opening things up and blocking and to Jared [Goff] for getting those check downs on field. So it's an overall team effort."
The former Georgia standout played a huge role in the Rams' dominant offensive performance over the 49ers in Week 3, rushing for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Plus the game marked Gurley's best rushing performance since 2015. After Thursday's practice, Gurley said his struggle to get the ground game going last year has significantly helped his outlook this season.
"You have your ups and downs in this game. You know every year is not going to be a good year and obviously I figured that out last year," he said. "All you can do is move forward and keep working hard, controlling what you can control and taking it day by day in your preparation. Once the season comes, you let all the anger out that you had and that you worked hard for in the offseason. That's what I feel like I have been doing a great job of."
And while the offense as a whole has recorded a series of outstanding outings in the first three weeks of the season, Gurley recognized the challenge L.A. will face against the Cowboys.
Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has been one of their most consistent players this season, and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month after recording 6.5 sacks in three games. Gurley said his team will get the unique chance to evaluate their progress thus far by going up against Lawrence and company on Sunday.
"Going into Dallas, they are 'America's Team,' coming off of a 13-3 season last year," Gurley said. "They have one of the best running backs in the league and the lead rusher, and a great defense with the sack leader right now. So it's an opportunity for us to go up against a great team and see where we are and how far we have come."
"You know, last year we started off 3-1 and then we went into the Bills and Panthers week and lost both of those games. So that's when it kind of went downhill," Gurley continued. "Every week you have to come with it and if you can finish, this is the first quarter of the season. So if you can finish 3-1, you are going to be right where you want to be."
BARWIN TALKS DEFENDING DYNAMIC COWBOYS' OFFENSE
On Sunday, the Rams will face off against the Cowboys for the first time in the regular season since 2014, when Dallas mounted a comeback to win, 34-31.
And though the two teams have since faced off in the preseason, this week the Rams will match up against a series of new faces on the Dallas offense, including running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
Fortunately for the Rams' defense, there is one player on their roster who is very familiar with the Cowboys — outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Before joining Los Angeles, Barwin spent the last four seasons in Philadelphia, which means he's faced the Cowboys eight times in his career. After practice on Thursday, the eight-year pro referred to Dallas as "an established offense," that combines "a solid offensive line, a good running back, and a really good, young quarterback."
"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."
But in three games this season, the Rams' defense has struggled against the run and is currently ranked among the league's bottom tier in total defense and points given up. To be at their best on Sunday, the Rams will need to start strong and remain focused for every snap.
"You have to be disruptive and you have to stay on him," Barwin said of stopping Prescott. "When you get pressure in the pocket, you have to make plays and keep him in the pocket. And then when he gets out, you have to have guys on him and you have to be great in coverage at the back end."
"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."
And while this week will provide a benchmark test of sorts for the Rams, Barwin says the team has approached it as they would any other.
"Every week is the most important week. Dallas is on the schedule this week so it's the most important," Barwin said. "They are obviously talented, and can do a lot on offense, so it will be a good challenge and a great opportunity for us especially for us upfront. You know they get talked about a lot rightfully so for how good they are upfront, and if we want to be talked about in the same way, this is when you show it and play well."