After a deflating loss to Kansas City last weekend that killed the momentum they built with their victory in the opener, the Dallas Cowboys face St. Louis today. Two seasons ago, Dallas blasted the Rams, 34-7. But St. Louis has improved considerably since then with a different coach, Jeff Fisher, and better personnel. In 2012, St. Louis went 4-1-1 within an NFC West division that includes San Francisco and Seattle. This year, the Rams are 1-1 and have one of the most productive passing attacks in the NFL. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
After Dallas gained only 37 yards on 16 carries, the Cowboys faced questions about their deficient ground attack. Head coach Jason Garrett said they need to run it more frequently. So did DeMarco Murray, who in his last game against the Rams set a single-game franchise record with 253 rushing yards in a 2011 victory. St. Louis appears much stingier than it was then, conceding an average of 61 yards per game on the ground this season.
When the Cowboys pass
Despite the fact that Tony Romo had the fourth-most pass attempts in the league after Week 2, his productivity has left plenty to be desired. Fifteen quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Romo has. Romo has protected the ball well but only two of his completions have resulted in gains of 25 yards or more. Luckily for Romo, the Rams’ pass defense has been leaky as they’ve conceded 330.5 yards per game.
When the Rams run
For the first time in 10 seasons, Steven Jackson isn’t lining up in the backfield for the Rams. He’s now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. His replacement is Daryl Richardson, the second-year player from Vernon who never started an NFL game until this season and has gained only 98 yards in two games. Richardson will have a tough time gaining traction against a Cowboys’ run defense that has allowed 82 yards per game and held Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles to 55 rushing yards last Sunday. (Editors note: Alex Smith also ran for 57 yards on 8 carries)
When the Rams pass
Sam Bradford looks more comfortable in his fourth NFL season. After two weeks, the Rams quarterback has accounted for the sixth-most passing yards in the league and has developed an instant rapport with rookie Tavon Austin, the speedy receiver who has already made two touchdown receptions. So the Cowboys, who have allowed quarterbacks to produce a healthy 98.9 passer rating against them, will have their work cut out for them.
This season, the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey and the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein have made all of their field goal attempts. That’s 11 combined. But Bailey’s conversions have been more impressive because he’s connected on two tries of 50 yards or longer. Bailey remains one of the Cowboys’ biggest weapons and he has led a special teams group that managed to block a field goal last Sunday.
The Cowboys return home smarting from their defeat to Kansas City last Sunday. AT&T Stadium hasn’t exactly been an intimidating environment for opponents, who have won 46 percent of the time there. But while Jerry Jones’ football palace hasn’t given the Cowboys a significant edge, the team seems to perform well there when the game kicks off at noon, winning eight of the previous 12 times they’ve played in that time slot. Dallas should be feeling good about the early start.
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When: Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 at high noon (Dallas time)
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Watch on TV: FOX and DIRECTV: 709
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