A good mix of scheme and execution leads Cowboys to dominate Rams on the ground

12/17/2019
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As a team, the Dallas Cowboys rushed 45 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams. The ground attack averaged 5.8 yards per carry as they pulled away in the second quarter and never allowed the Rams back into the contest until it was too late to make a difference. Ezekiel Elliott averaged almost 4.9 yards on 24 carries while rushing for two touchdowns. Rookie Tony Pollard exploded for almost 11 yards per rush with 131 yards on 12 carries — thanks in part to a 44-yard score late in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys’ ground game alone matched their opponents’ total touchdowns and nearly all of their yards gained. So, after months of inability to defeat “good” teams, Dallas finally prevailed in dominant fashion over the previously 8-5 Rams. This was its first victory over an opponent with a winning record all season.

Was it scheme or execution?

During its three-game losing streak and for much of the season since October, neither the play on the field nor the designed systems seemed to consistently work together. If the players were holding their own against a tough opponent, then the scheme would become stale and predictable. If the play calls were creative or sound in their sequencing, then the offensive line and tight ends would fail to execute their blocks or Elliott would fail to break through a tackle he normally would, or a receiver would drop a catchable pass, and so on. And if the offense played well, then the defense played poorly and vice versa.

This past Sunday, both scheme and execution complemented each other to produce the team’s best win of the season. Instead of banging their collective heads against the wall with the same few runs over and over again, Kellen Moore called for no fewer than nine different types of run plays. They ran outside zone, inside zone, read-option, counter, wham, toss, lead toss, reverse, and lead-iso among others and the Rams had no answer for almost all of them. The offense switched between zone and gap-schemed blocking throughout the day and excelled at both.

And for whatever play was called, the offensive line’s blocking was stellar throughout. They consistently moved defenders aside to create running lanes or maintained good leverage on their assignments. An excellent example of this occurs on this counter run near midfield.

Dallas’ varied rushing attack kept Los Angeles off balance. And if the offensive line missed a block or a defender beat the blocking scheme and knifed into the backfield, then Elliott jumped-cut or juked his way past them like he hadn’t done all season.

Pollard did the same and showed us why he has a bright future in this league.

Ground game takes its toll

When Pollard capped off Sunday’s win with his 44-yard touchdown, the Cowboys backup quarterback along with a number of second-string receivers had checked in.

By the end of the game, the ground attack had grinded on the Rams so much that their defenders were utterly confused and seeing ghosts. Pollard and the offensive line deserve a lot of credit for his explosive touchdown but credit goes to the Rams as well.

Rewatch the 44-yard scoring play below and keep an eye on the off-ball linebacker on the play side. As Cooper Rush hands off the ball on this outside zone run, the linebacker backpedals for a full step before redirecting back toward the line of scrimmage. His hesitation prevents him from filling the hole in time to stop Pollard from breaking through.

The defender was clearly confused and likely thought that Rush was keeping the ball for a bootleg pass. This misread was what allowed Pollard the room to score in the first place.

Conclusion

For the first time this season, the Dallas Cowboys finally beat a “good team” with a winning record. The offense has been able to produce a lot of yards nearly every week and in fact are one of the league-leading units in regards to yardage. But some of this can be attributed to them playing from behind and being forced to air it out to catch up.

Still, Sunday’s performance illustrates what this team is capable of if both their scheme and execution meet their potential. The problem is that, aside from them defeating an opponent with a winning record, we’ve seen this rollercoaster all year. This team starts out the season on fire, then loses three straight with one of those losses to a team that was 1-4 at the time. If the offense plays well, then the defense plays poorly and vice versa.

Despite the impressive win over last year’s conference champions, we still don’t know what to make of these Cowboys. Perhaps they’ve finally turned the corner or flipped the switch that lets them play to their potential more consistently.  Or perhaps this is one in a long line of peaks just before the bottom drops out from under the roller coaster. Many will want an immediate and instant answer to this season-long question but no such answer exists.

Not this year.

We have to wait and see how the Week 16 divisional matchup plays out. And if Dallas wins the division, wait and see again. This team has earned no higher expectation from its fanbase and deserves no more praise than “we’ll see what happens next week” from its faithful followers.

 

Follow Allan on Twitter for Dallas and NFL analysis. 

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