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Scout's Eye: Rams-Cowboys key matchups

10/22/2011

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.

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.

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.