Dallas Cowboys: James Laurinaitis

Scout's Eye: Rams-Cowboys key matchups

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
8:25
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Cowboys C Phil Costa vs. Rams MLB James Laurinaitis: Much has been made about the Cowboys' inability to run the football. I will not totally put the blame at the feet of the offensive line because there have been plays that have been blocked correctly where there has been a chance for a nice gain, but the backs have not hit the holes with any consistency in the right spot.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonRams running back Steven Jackson may find running room tough to come by against the Cowboys'
No. 1-ranked rush defense.
In three of their first five games, the Cowboys faced run defenses that ranked in the top 11 of the league. This week, they face a Rams squad that is one of the worst against the run. But St. Louis has a pretty good run player in James Laurinaitis. I have been impressed with his ability to get around blocks and make plays in the running game. He is the one defensive player for the Rams that is always around the football.

Phil Costa is coming off one of his worst games and needs to get some confidence back, but it will be very difficult against Laurinaitis, who is all over the field. Laurinaitis is similar to the Cowboys' Sean Lee. The Cowboys have to be careful to not allow Laurinaitis to go unblocked because he has the ability to read quickly, then shoot gaps to get tackles for loss.

Other than Chris Long, the Rams' defensive linemen really struggle to get off blocks, so there will be opportunities in the running game. But if Costa struggles, you will know it very quickly.

Cowboys run D vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson: Through six weeks, Rob Ryan's defense is ranked first in the league against the run. The Rams, like the Cowboys, have had their share of problems in the running game, but it’s not because of the effort or ability of Jackson.

The last time these two teams met Jackson gashed the Cowboys for 160 yards. Jackson has always held a grudge against the Cowboys for not drafting him in 2004. To his credit, he has made Dallas look foolish for not taking him that day.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
AP Photo/Darren AbateMiles Austin, along with Dez Bryant, could give the Rams secondary fits.
As mentioned, the Rams' run game can't find any consistency because the offensive line struggles to get any type of push at the point. Most of Jackson’s runs are done on his own by bouncing the ball outside or running from the shotgun on inside handoffs. The Rams also like to throw the ball to Jackson on screens and let him do damage in the open field. Ryan put it best when he said that his crew will need to keep hitting Jackson and get a bunch of bodies to the ball.

With quarterback Sam Bradford unable to play because of a high ankle sprain, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will turn to A.J. Feeley and try to establish the run with Jackson. In my view, the Cowboys' front seven should be able to do the job.

Cowboys WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant vs. Rams CB Al Harris: Several years ago, this might have been a good matchup for Harris, but now it’s a big mismatch. Harris, a 14-year veteran, can no longer play at the level he once played at for so many years.

Injuries have robbed him of much of the skill he once had. He no longer has that burst, quickness or speed he used to. Harris now struggles to maintain any type of positioning in the route.

There are times when he is peeking in the backfield or guessing on the route. Last week against the Packers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson beat him on a slant-and-go for a big touchdown. Later in the same game, Aaron Rodgers pump-faked him out of coverage to bite on a route.

There is no doubt in my mind that either Austin or Bryant can run by Harris in the vertical game for a big play. Harris just doesn’t run well enough. When you play corner, that’s a huge problem. On the other side, cornerback Justin King has struggled to cover the deep pass, as well.

Scout's Eye: Rams-Cowboys preview

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
9:00
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After two difficult losses against the Lions and the Patriots, the Cowboys face the St. Louis Rams in a contest where both teams need a win in the worst way.

The Rams were picked by many as preseason NFC West favorites with Sam Bradford at quarterback. Instead they are 0-5 and really not doing anything well on offense or defense.

Scout's Eye
RAMS OFFENSE

The Rams are hurting the most on the offensive line, which is surprising because they have invested high draft picks in tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith. Safford is the starter at left tackle and is the best of the Rams’ offensive linemen. Smith was drafted with the third overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft and really hasn’t lived up to the billing.

At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, Saffold looks a lot longer on tape. Tends to come off the ball high at times and without much bend in the knees. Saffold is a catch blocker more than a puncher. He will place his hands on the rusher then try to steer them away from the ball or up the field. He will do a nice job of running his man up the field.

Smith tends to play without power but can run, which is his way of getting out of trouble. Cowboys rookie right tackle Tyron Smith already plays like a better player than Jason Smith, who is going into his third season with the Rams. Of the two St. Louis tackles, Smith is the one that gets the most help from tight ends and backs that stay in the game to block.

The weakest position on the offensive line for the Rams is at right guard. Harvey Dahl was signed as a free agent by the Rams from the Falcons on July 31, and the more you study him, the more you feel like that is was money poorly spent.

I am going to be real honest, there is nothing about Dahl’s game to like. If you think that the Cowboys have had problems at left guard, the Rams have had it worse with the way that Dahl has played. Dahl will pull and miss. He is not athletic enough to execute the cut-off block or keep his man from overpowering him in the passing game.

I have talked about for weeks how Rob Ryan has done a nice job of identifying the offensive line’s weakest link that needs to be attacked to create the best matchups to win. Ryan should take advantage of Dahl several times this game.

The two best players on the Rams offense are Bradford and running back Steven Jackson. I have always been a big Bradford supporter. Watching him play down after down, there is no reason to change that thought.

Bradford, who might not play Sunday due to a high ankle sprain, had better offensive talent around him college at Oklahoma. Despite all that, he is able to make all the throws. He is accurate and mobile, but this ankle injury that might limit him from making some plays with his legs.

Bradford has a nice feel in the pocket and is able to slide and move to buy a second chance. The Rams like to run waggles, dragging the tight ends from the opposite side, so it will be interesting with this injury if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will still make this part of the game plan.

The Rams are last in the NFL in rushing offense, but if you use the Jason Garrett theory, the Rams run the ball poorly because they are always behind in games and need to pass to try to get back into games. The problems I see again fall more on the offensive line than they do on Jackson.

While I am on the subject of Jackson, our scouting department had a first-round grade on him, but there some medical concerns at the time with a back injury. When it came our time to pick, the Buffalo Bills called and wanted to offer us the next year’s first-round selection for our pick at that time. The discussion in the draft room at the time were that Julius Jones, who we had in the second round, was just as good of a back. Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells agreed and we made the deal with the Bills. For that selection the following year, we drafted Marcus Spears.

In looking back in that draft, we made a mistake on Jackson. I believe that we had the right grade on the board, but we had the wrong vision for the player and what he would become in his career.

Jackson is not an explosive player, but he is consistent in the way he attacks. Will try to bounce more balls to the outside than he will take inside. The Rams have some success with him when they get in the gun, then hand the ball to him on the inside.

McDaniels also likes to try and throw him the ball on screens. He will sneak out of the back field, then mesh with the line.

If Jackson does struggle, it is as a pass protector. As much as Ryan likes to bring pressure from all angles, this will be a difficult task for him. As the game develops, watch how many screens that the Rams run and if they use Jackson in pass blocking.

On the outside, the Rams made a deal at the trade deadline for some help. Brandon Lloyd joins the squad after a stint with the Broncos. There are a couple of ways to look at this for the Rams. The most important way is that it’s another weapon for Bradford on a team that has failed to address the wide receiver position the last two years.

Sure, the Rams have drafted receivers but none that could be a difference maker. Lloyd has that chance and should be ready to hit the ground running in this offense because he was with McDaniels at the Broncos.

The one thing that the Cowboys on defense might not be able to count on is turnovers from the quarterback. Bradford is one of the best in the league at not throwing interceptions.

RAMS DEFENSE

When you study the Rams, it’s a defense that appears to be very talent poor. There are two players that really stood out: middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive end Chris Long.

The Rams drafted defensive end Robert Quinn in the first round in 2011, but like tackle Jason Smith, he hasn’t made the impact that they had hoped for. When you are playing with 14-year veteran Al Harris at corner, your defense is going to have some issues.

Laurinaitis is a very similar to what Sean Lee is for the Cowboys. He can run, he reads the play quickly, he reacts and he tackles well. Laurinaitis has a real nose for the ball. He is a sideline to sideline player. He does a nice job in coverage. Did not see an effective blitzer in the early games I studied against the Giants and Ravens.

As a pass rusher, defensive end Chris Long is a relentless player but doesn’t play with the rush skill of what the Cowboys offensive tackles have seen the early part of this year. Tyron Smith needs to have a bounce-back game after not being at his best last week. Long will not be able to use power against Smith, which is the one area that gives him the most trouble.

The Cowboys should be able to move the ball on the ground against the Rams’ down linemen, who struggle getting off blocks. Again, the key here will be the inside players for the Cowboys, mainly Montrae Holland working with Phil Costa and Kyle Kosier to not allow Laurinaitis to make all the tackles.

I also look for the Cowboys offensively to have some success throwing the ball. The Rams’ secondary have struggled with coverage at the corner with Harris and Justin King. Against the Ravens, King was beaten badly on several deep, vertical routes that went for touchdowns.

Look for Garrett to test this secondary to try and make some deep throws down the field to try and stretch this Rams defense that has limited range with safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl.

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