Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff finished Saturday with 186 passing yards — his lowest total since a disastrous four-interception game against the Bears. It wasn’t nearly as costly this around, though, because the Rams didn’t need him to much in their 30-22 win against the Dallas Cowboys.
The only team in the last decade to have two triple-digit rushers in a playoff game was the 49ers in 2013 when Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore ran all over the Packers. The last pair of running backs on the same team to each top 100 yards was Terrell Davis and Derek Loville of the Broncos way back in a 1997 win against the Jaguars.
It was a bruising, powerful performance by the Rams against a Cowboys defense that allowed just 3.8 yards per carry — fifth-best in the NFL — during the regular season. Dallas gave up just 73 rushing yards to the Seahawks on 24 carries a week ago.
With the win, the Rams are headed to the NFC Championship for the first time since the days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Torry Holt. They’ll be headed back to the Super Bowl for the first time since “The Greatest Show on Turf” days too if they find the same success on the ground next week.
The Rams offensive line was the real MVP(s)
Somehow in the lead up to the Rams’ Divisional Round matchup against the Cowboys, a few analysts believed that the Los Angeles offensive line could end up getting the team bounced from the postseason.
Monday Night Football analyst Booger McFarland went so far as to call it one of the biggest liabilities of any of the eight teams still alive after Wild Card Weekend:
Remaining liabilities in playoffs
Rams run defense
Rams offensive line
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) January 11, 2019
That’s a weird analysis of a Rams offensive line that avoided injuries altogether, and finished ranked No. 6 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Only seven teams allowed fewer sacks than the Rams, and the team was No. 3 in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt.
Against Dallas, the Rams offensive line blew open holes like this:
And when it wasn’t running the Dallas defensive line over in the run game, the line was keeping Jared Goff completely clean when he dropped back to pass:
The Rams offensive line neutralized the Cowboys pass rush tonight
Jared Goff was only pressured once on his 28 dropbacks, per @NextGenStats
His pressure rate of 3.4 pct was the 2nd-lowest in a game for any QB this season (min. 20 dropbacks)
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 13, 2019
The Rams’ line passed a tough test against the Cowboys with flying colors. And another ESPN analyst, Mike Greenberg, thought everyone should be shocked by that.
I can’t believe the way this #Rams offensive line is dominating. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 13, 2019
The Rams offensive line proved throughout the season that it’s a group ready to bully defensive lines. It’s past time for them to get their earned respect.
Running the ball wins in the playoffs
Seven of the top nine teams at stopping the run made the playoffs. So did all seven of the top seven teams in turnover margin.
When January football comes, time of possession is paramount. The team that can still run the ball when just about every defense is good — and that can still dictate the pace of the game — will win. Especially if they can avoid turnovers that allow big swings of momentum.
The Rams didn’t have any turnovers Saturday, and finished with 36:13 of possession. It was the first time the Cowboys — who are built around running the ball and stopping the run — finished with less than 24 minutes of possession.
Next up for the Rams will either be the Saints or the Eagles — a pair of teams that each beat Los Angeles earlier in the year. While Philadelphia allowed 4.7 rushing yards per game — No. 21 in the NFL — the New Orleans defense gave up just 3.6 yards per carry. That was second-best in the NFL.
No matter who wins Sunday, the Rams will have a chance to avenge one of their three regular season losses in the NFC Championship. Doing so with another grinding rushing attack again probably won’t be easy.
The Rams need to finish in the red zone
Los Angeles averaged 32.9 points per game during the 2018 season, so it’s a little surprising that the Rams were No. 18 in the NFL at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The team converted 57.5 percent of its red zone trips into touchdowns — way behind the Steelers’ league-leading percentage of 73.47.
That issue nearly proved costly Saturday when the Rams settled for chip-shot field goal attempts of 25 and 23 yards early in the game. Despite blowing away Dallas in almost every statistical category, the Rams needed a couple first downs late in the game to shut down the Cowboys’ chances at a comeback.
The domination may have been reflected on the scoreboard if the Rams scored touchdowns to bury the Cowboys early.
The margin for error will likely shrink for the Rams in the NFC Championship, and the team will need to score points when it gets the opportunity to do so. If Los Angeles can lean on its running game again and convert those scoring chances into points, a Super Bowl trip is probably on the horizon.