Isn't it nice when things go as planned?
That was the case for the Los Angeles Rams defense in Saturday's Divisional round matchup against the Dallas Cowboys and the league's leading rusher, running back Ezekiel Elliott.
While there was chatter of the defense bearing down and shaking its habit of allowing yards on the ground all season, the Rams have not showed up like they did in the Coliseum Saturday night — allowing a season-low 50 yards rushing against the Cowboys.
"It was a goal for us," defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said after his first-career playoff win. "We understood that teams felt they could run the ball on us, a big emphasis for them. I watched a previous playoff game against Seattle. He was obviously dominant and probably one of the reasons why they won that game."
And after taking 26 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown in the Wild Card round against the Seahawks, Elliott was the reason most thought the Cowboys could have sent the Rams packing, short of a rematch with either the Saints or Eagles.
Elliott's 95.6 yards per game led the league in 2018, but the back picked up just 47 yards in his third-career playoff game. It was Elliott's second-lowest rushing total of the season and the third-lowest of his career.
Most of all, it was what nobody saw coming.
"We put emphasis on it this week," cornerback Aqib Talib said after the game. "Of course it was a lot of talk in the media but we just said, 'Man, it's postseason. Nothing else matters but this game.' We prepared for it."
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett saw the Rams' preparation come to fruition — leaving him short of the conference championship game in now three career postseason appearances.
"They were committed to stopping our run," Garrett said. "They had a lot of people around the line of scrimmage and that's what they were going to do. When we were in three wide receiver sets, they were staying in base defense and they just wanted to stop the run."
The Rams held just one team to fewer than 100 yards on the ground since Week 7 — 98 yards against the Chiefs — but Saturday night was different. Without revealing too much, two wins away from football glory, head coach Sean McVay said adjustments were made in his first-career playoff win as a head coach.
"There were some different things that we did compared to what we had done maybe the last month that I think was helpful," McVay said. "But, ultimately, it's the plan from the coaches and then the players' ability to be able to execute it and they showed up in a big way."
To Garrett's point, McVay's defense executed against the run for 60 minutes with commitment — but the effort came to a head at the start of the fourth quarter.
With the Cowboys offense creeping into Rams territory down by eight, it was 4th-and-1 from the 35-yard line. Quarterback Dak Prescott pressed the ball into Elliott's gut in search of a yard and new set of downs only to come up short. Rams ball — Rams momentum.
"It was huge, a key point in the game and a huge stop for us," Talib said. "And a great job by our offense. It's times in a game like that that where the momentum kind of shifts and it went in our favor."
"We've been standing up in crunch time, big moments all year," safety John Johnson said, reviewing his 4th-and-1 tackle. "It was kind of routine and hopefully we can carry it on into these later games."
Johnson stonewalled Elliott and the Cowboys' early fourth quarter effort and from there the Rams allowed three fourth-quarter rushing yards and picked up 63 yards rushing of their own.
The Rams left the field with the club's first playoff win since the 2004 season.
"That's the key," Talib said. "We know that January football is about running the ball and playing defense. Everybody knows that."