The Dallas Cowboys nearly cost themselves a possession before the game against the Los Angeles Rams even kicked off at AT&T Stadium.
Luckily, they turned in their best performance in more than a month once they got going.
Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes and Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard each rushed for over 100 yards, leading the Cowboys to a 44-21 win over the Rams on Sunday.
The Dallas defense, maligned for its recent struggles against lesser competition, held the Rams to 289 yards of total offense. Todd Gurley II went into halftime with only one rushing yard before finishing with 20, and Jared Goff struggled to make connections down the field.
The Cowboys entered the matchup losers of three straight games and had lost the NFC East lead. They needed a win over the Rams to keep their tiebreaker advantage over the Eagles. The Rams will need to win out and have the Minnesota Vikings lose their last two games to make the postseason.
QB Jared Goff: 33-of-51, 284 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT
RB Todd Gurley: 11 CAR, 20 YDS, 1 TD (3 REC, 18 YDS, 1 TD)
TE Tyler Higbee: 12 REC, 111 YDS
WR Cooper Kupp: 6 REC, 41 YDS, 1 TD
WR Brandin Cooks: 4 REC, 46 YDS
QB Dak Prescott: 15-of-23, 212 YDS, 2 TD
RB Ezekiel Elliott: 24 CAR, 117 YDS, 2 TD (3 REC, 43 YDS)
RB Tony Pollard: 12 CAR, 131 YDS 1 TD (2 REC, 12 YDS)
WR Amari Cooper: 1 REC, 19 YDS
Sean McVay's Offensive Genius Will Be Tested This Offseason
Truly great coaches adjust their schemes and adapt as defenses figure out their tendencies. McVay has been hailed as an offensive wunderkind during his NFL coaching career and for good reason. He took a roster Jeff Fisher couldn't motivate to compete and turned the Rams into back-to-back division winners. Jared Goff went from posting one of the worst rookie seasons by a quarterback in NFL history to making two straight Pro Bowls.
The Rams made a Super Bowl, and NFL teams went on a coaching hiring spree trying to find their own McVay. Of course, Bill Belichick, the patron saint of game-by-game and year-by-year adaption, exposed McVay's offense in said Super Bowl—a process that's continued during this regular season.
Goff is clearly nothing more than an average starting NFL quarterback, and the Rams are stuck with him for the foreseeable future after handing him a massive contract last offseason. Gurley will probably never be as effective as he was in 2017 and 2018 due to a degenerative knee condition. Brandin Cooks has not looked the same since returning from a concussion earlier this season and will likely be on the roster through 2021.
The roster is what it is, and the avenues to get better are not many. That's where McVay comes in, because he's going to need to spend this offseason adjusting his scheme to maximize the talent he does have. Acquiring a true 1B running back to Gurley's 1A may be the first solution; Darrell Henderson Jr. has been a disappointment during his rookie season. That could alleviate the pressure on Goff and allow for more open throwing lanes.
But the real pressure is on McVay to understand what opposing coaches have figured out and come back in 2020 with a revamped scheme. Otherwise, the wunderkind might wind up garnering Chip Kelly comparisons instead.
The Cowboys Make No Sense as Always
The Cowboys are a 53-man shrugging emoticon. Trying to figure them out is an exercise in failure. They are somehow both a .500 team and one that has outscored their opponents by 90 points. There is, seemingly, no rhyme or reason to which version of the team will show up every week.
Most of the blame has fallen on Jason Garrett, and there's little doubt he's coaching his final games as Cowboys coach barring a deep playoff run. A loss to the Rams, which would've put Dallas a game out of the NFC East lead, might have been enough to get Garrett replaced for the final two weeks.
As it stands, the Cowboys remain in their perch atop the division before taking a trip to face the equally disappointing Eagles next week. A win in that game hands a division championship and a Wild Card Round home game to Dallas.
That game may be the least predictable contest of the entire season. It could be a down-to-the-wire slog, a high-scoring slugfest or a complete blowout—any possibility is on the table. The Cowboys showed they're capable of dominance against a good Rams team on Sunday, while the Eagles barely kept their head above water against Washington.
The Cowboys are clearly the better and more talented team on paper. Trusting them to get the job done is another question entirely.