“America’s Team” and “the Dallas Cowboys” are no longer one and the same. Typically, America expects its team—if there is such a thing in a league that consists entirely of American teams—to win more than 46 percent of its games, as the Cowboys have in the past three-plus seasons (23-27).
The marketing genius of owner Jerry Jones keeps the squad in our consciousness, so everyone who follows the NFL knows what to expect of Dallas’ skill-position stars: Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin.
What they may not know is what kind of offensive line the Cowboys are fielding.
Dallas has allowed five sacks through two games, tied for 12th-most in the NFL. Despite the presence of first-round center Travis Frederick, the Cowboys have proven to be susceptible to pressure right up the middle.
Don’t be surprised if former first-round defensive tackle Michael Brockers gets his first sack of the season in Week 3, after the Cowboys’ O-line made Dontari Poe look like an All-Pro. After failing to record a sack as a rookie, Poe brought Romo down twice in Week 2 to bring his 2013 sack total to 3.5 through two weeks.
Both Romo sacks happened before the middle of the third quarter.
Another interesting challenge the Rams present defensively for Dallas is the remainder of their defensive line: bookends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
Quinn is already enjoying a big season, having added four sacks and two forced fumbles to his resume in just two games. If the Cowboys slide protection his way or put Murray on Quinn’s side in the shotgun—they’re going to use the shotgun extensively to counter that inside pressure—in anticipation of getting smoked by a speed rush, look for Long to record his first sack of the year.
A mismatch working in Dallas’ favor resides in the backfield. Rams fans are all too familiar with DeMarco, who broke out for 253 yards and a touchdown against them as a rookie in 2011.
While previewing the Rams’ matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, I mentioned Alec Ogletree getting worked in coverage by Dion Lewis in the preseason. We now have a regular-season example: Steven Jackson did the same thing (in a different way) in Week 2.
I know it. The Cowboys know it. If you didn’t know it before, now you know it: Until that coverage thing is fixed—and, eventually, it will be—teams will continue to target Ogletree for touchdowns.
In Week 2, the Kansas City Chiefs preemptively returned the favor by targeting Jamaal Charles in the end zone until he made something happen against Dallas. It worked out for them, and they put it on tape for St. Louis.
Perhaps Daryl Richardson’s first career score will be a receiving touchdown.
The Rams need to spread out the Cowboys defense and dictate their personnel. Jeff Fisher has expressed a reluctance to run the no-huddle offense, so tempo may not be the way St. Louis attempts to dictate what Dallas can do defensively.
Tavon Austin has a chance to improve upon his Week 2 numbers (six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets) based on Victor Cruz’s Week 1 dismantling (five catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns on eight targets) of the Cowboys defense.
Austin’s stats—as well as those of the rest of the Rams’ weapons—will look nice if Sam Bradford is allowed to run the uptempo offense. They’re comfortable with it, but if it were to become a full-time thing, the defense would be on the field a lot more as a result.
This one should be a shootout either way.
Jamal Collier graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and is now a law student who covers the St. Louis Rams in his spare time. His work also appears on Yahoo!. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @JCollierD