Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson Lead Rams to NFC Championship with Win vs. Cowboys

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12:  Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams scores a 35 yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams moved on to the NFC Championship Game after they earned their first playoff win since 2004 on Saturday night.

The running game led the way in the 30-22 divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson each topped 100 rushing yards and combined for three touchdowns as the Rams avoided the upset against what had been one of the NFL's hottest teams.

Dak Prescott finished with a passing touchdown and rushing score, but it wasn't enough to help the Cowboys, who still haven't won a road playoff game since 1993.

             

Dominant Offensive Line Can Pave Way to Rams Super Bowl Win

The Rams finished the year second in the NFL in both total yards and points scored, but not a lot of credit was given to the offensive line. Not a single player on the unit was named to the Pro Bowl or either All-Pro team.

However, the group deserves full recognition for its showing against a tough Cowboys defense.

The Rams gashed Dallas' front seven on the ground, rushing for 170 yards in the first half before finishing with 273 yards in the game.

Todd Gurley was the obvious focal point coming in and finished with 115 yards on the ground, but veteran C.J. Anderson was even more impressive with 123 yards and two scores.

While each played well on their own, it was easier with wide-open holes created by Andrew Whitworth, Rodger Saffold and others.

Those watching along recognized the play of the big boys up front:

The effort in the first half likely helped convince Sean McVay to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, which ended up being a second touchdown for Anderson.

Dallas ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and held Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson to just 20 yards on 13 carries in the Wild Card Game. However, the team couldn't slow down the Rams in this one.

The pass blocking was just as impressive Saturday, as Jared Goff was sacked zero times with just one quarterback hit.

This type of performance will be necessary in the NFC Championship Game no matter who the Rams face. The Saints had the No. 2 run defense in the league with Cameron Jordan making an impact in the pass rush, while Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett and the Eagles defensive line is also no joke.

However, if the offensive line can play like it did against the Cowboys, no one will be able to stop the Rams offense before they raise the Lombardi Trophy in a few weeks.

         

Rams Defense Must Provide More Help Around Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald isn't just the best defensive tackle in the NFL; he is one of the most impressive players in the league at any position.

The All-Pro finished with two tackles Saturday, although his contributions went well beyond the numbers.

Donald was being double-teamed for much of the night—as he has all season—but still found a way to make an impact:

His tackles were also noteworthy:

His effort opens things up for other guys on the defense to make plays. The problem is we didn't see much of anyone else in this game.

While the Cowboys were held to 22 points, the team's biggest issue was its inefficiency on third down while finishing 1-of-10 in the game. This required some key plays from the Rams defense, but the Cowboys also made their own mistakes.

Los Angeles forced zero turnovers on defense, and the only sack came on a questionable "in the grasp" call where it appeared Prescott escaped.

This type of effort won't be good enough against either the Saints or the Eagles.

The Rams have had some questionable games as a defense, but the unit has survived thanks to its ability to make game-changing plays. Even while allowing 51 points to the Kansas City Chiefs, the team also forced five turnovers with a couple of defensive touchdowns to help come away with the dramatic win.

Los Angeles needs players like Dante Fowler and Marcus Peters to play to their ability in the next game to avoid being outscored like in the first matchups against the Saints and Eagles.

          

Cowboys Set Up for Extended Window if Dak Prescott Does His Job

Few expected the Cowboys to be playing at this point in the year after the 3-5 start to the season. However, the team turned things around with eight wins in nine games to get to the divisional round.

No one likes being eliminated from the playoffs, but this team should be proud of what it has achieved this season. For fans around the country, they should be especially excited about where this group can go next year and beyond.

Despite getting gashed by the Rams on the ground in this game, the strength of this team was its defense full of young playmakers like Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones. While offensive production can be inconsistent from season to season, this performance by the defense was legitimate, and the unit could get even better as the players get more experienced.

Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving are pending free agents but could make this an elite defense if they return.

Meanwhile, everyone should return on an offense that has gotten better in the second half of the season.

Amari Cooper brought the type of explosiveness the team had been missing before his midseason trade, showing the deal was indeed a great value:

Michael Gallup also had a breakout performance against the Rams, finishing with six catches for 119 yards. Adding in Ezekiel Elliott and a strong offensive line when healthy, the situation is perfect for Dak Prescott to succeed.

Of course, the quarterback remains the biggest question mark on the roster after an up-and-down season. While he had big moments, he also relied upon the talent around him to carry him when needed.

Still, he showed the type of impact he can make when he is given the opportunity to succeed.

His third-quarter throw to Gallup was very Patrick Mahomes-esque and one of the best plays he has made all season:

Prescott also used his legs in the fourth quarter, running in a touchdown on an option play in the closing minutes.

While he wasn't perfect, he avoided turnovers and gave his team a chance to win on the road against a very good opponent. This is what you want from your quarterback, and this level of play could help the Cowboys next season.

Even without any key additions in the offseason, Dallas should be one of the favorites in the NFC in 2019.

         

What's Next?

The Rams advance to the NFC Championship Game to face either the New Orleans Saints or Philadelphia Eagles. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will go into the offseason hoping they can find the missing pieces needed to get over the hump.

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