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Rams running back C.J. Anderson scores a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys in the NFC divisional-round on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

L.A.’s “Battering Ram” breaks through

C.J. Anderson’s third straight big game powers the Rams’ playoff win over the Cowboys

Rams fans are relieved to get the win, and gamblers are happy that L.A. covered the spread, but this game left a lot of questions about the Rams’ chances of getting to the Super Bowl.

For Rams fans, Saturday’s 30–22 win over the Cowboys felt like one of those annoying Seattle games where the Rams completely dominate the first half, but come away with field goals on two drives that ended inside the Dallas 10 followed by a dropped pick six. The difference today was that the quarterback was Dak Prescott, and not Russell Wilson, so the Rams will move on to play in the NFC Championship.

The Rams did a lot of great things, running for 273 yards, outgaining the Cowboys by 150 yards, and controlling the ball for 36 minutes. Todd Gurley is healthy and had a big touchdown run, while Goff played a clean, efficient game, though he made a few horrible throws that stalled the only drive in the game where they had to punt. But the big story was the redemption of former Denver Bronco C.J. Anderson, who not only performed, but looks like a human battering ram, as the 5'8" 225 lb running back plowed through the Cowboys’ vaunted defensive front seven for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

On the defensive side, the Rams completely took away the Cowboys’ running game, which was a huge surprise considering the Rams had one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL this season.

And yet, somehow this was a one possession game for most of the second half. It took a massive 4th down stop by the Rams defense to start the 4th quarter and a rare Jared Goff run for a first down to seal the win in a game that left me feeling that the Cowboys overachieved and the Rams underachieved.

Game observations:

  1. The Rams used the jet sweep for the first time in a month. For some reason, the Rams stopped using one of their best plays since maybe the Saints game, as if this would fool anyone who watched film. This proves that Jason Garrett does not watch film. Cowboys fans should be furious.
  2. Wade Phillips is apparently perfectly able to stop the run, but played rope-a-dope with the rest of the NFL for the entire regular season. On the other hand, Dallas was the only team against which that strategy will actually work, so look for everything to go back to normal when they play a good quarterback.
  3. Even though Ram fans love Sean McVay, the Rams redzone offense (#18 at 57.5%) has been consistently mediocre for two years. That being said, mediocre is a historic improvement when the previous coach is Jeff Fisher.
  4. Not counting the drive to run out the clock, the Rams ended in Dallas territory in all eight of their possessions. They need to score 40+ points in a game like this if they want to have a chance to win their next game.
  5. The terrible coverage breakdowns by Marcus Peters, and the stupid PI by Aquib Talib were the only reasons the Rams didn’t shut out the Cowboys.
  6. Neither team had a turnover, however, the Rams did get a big 4th down stop at the beginning of the 4th quarter to go back up by two touchdowns.
  7. Jason Garrett pulled out all stops, converted 3 out of 4 times they went for it on 4th down, and every one of those drives resulted in a touchdown. That might be the most remarkable statistic of the game. If he called his usual conservative game, Dallas could have been shut out. The idea of Garrett outcoaching McVay will probably land him another contract extension, much to the horror of Dallas fans.
  8. C.J. Anderson looks like a compact version of William (the Refrigerator) Perry. My son took me to the 49ers game and I was amazed at how wide this guy is. I can’t believe the Rams were able to sign a guy who helped Denver win the Super Bowl only three years ago. He has gained 422 yards in his three games with the Rams.
  9. The Rams now have the two guys most responsible for Denver winning Super Bowl 50, Wade Phillips and CJ Anderson. I hope that means something. They don’t have Von Miller, but Aaron Donald isn’t a bad substitute.
  10. C.J. Anderson beat the Cowboys TWICE this year. He played for Carolina in the season opener and had 7 carries for 35 yards. He only had a handful of carries the first half of the season and was cut by the Panthers on November 12th and they went 1–6 the rest of the season. He was then picked up and cut by the Raiders. Maybe the secret is to get a running back who has fresh legs.

What’s Next?

Today’s win was a big bounce back, considering how poorly the Rams played against the Bears and the Eagles in December. The fact that the Rams didn’t have any turnovers was an especially good sign, as teams without much playoff experience are more likely to make mistakes (remember that dud against Atlanta last year?). This game marked the first playoff win for key veterans Andrew Whitworth and Ndamukong Suh.

Still, today’s game doesn’t convince me they can get past New Orleans or Philadelphia next week, unless coach McVay has purposely kept some tricks up his sleeve for next week. Both teams feature quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls with their arms, and who have multiple weapons in all the skill positions. The NFC Championship will still come down to how well Jared Goff plays and whether the Rams can finally score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Having a great field goal kicker should only matter when you need that one field goal at the end of the game.

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Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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