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Saturday, September 21, 2013
Rams-Cowboys: Matchup breakdown

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. – Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys has plenty of intriguing matchups, making it difficult to boil it down to just a few. Here are three to keep an eye on when the teams kick it off at 1 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium.

Rams CB Janoris Jenkins vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant

Another week, another elite receiver for Jenkins and the Rams secondary to deal with. Last week it was Atlanta’s Julio Jones doing the damage, beating Jenkins for an 81-yard touchdown -- though Jenkins should’ve had some help from safety Rodney McLeod on the play.

Bryant battled a back ailment all week, but is listed as probable and coming off a big outing last week in Kansas City. The Rams have been torched in the passing game the first two weeks -- and Bryant might be the most dynamic of all the wideouts they’ve faced yet.

Jenkins has been better than the rest of the Rams’ corners so far, but this might also be his biggest challenge. Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton took responsibility this week for the big days top wideouts like Jones and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald have had against his secondary.

Janoris Jenkins
The tests get tougher for Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins: This week it's Dez Bryant.
Look for Jenkins to get his chances to go up against Bryant -- but for Walton to find ways to provide more help for his young corner.

“You’ve got to make sure you take care of him,” Walton said of Bryant. “You’ve got to double him. It’s the same thing, he’s one of the best receivers in the league -- physical and they’re going to get him the ball. We have to try to do a better job of taking away guys’ No. 1 threat and he is their No. 1 guy.”

Rams DE Robert Quinn vs. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith

Quinn has been, perhaps, the league’s most dominant pass-rusher in the first two weeks and has also made major strides as a run defender.

“He has really taken a big step forward, but he does it every day at practice,” Walton said. “(Defensive line) coach (Mike) Waufle has done a great job with him -- technique, leverage, alignments. And he’s done that through (organized team activities), training camp and you can see now in the first couple games of the year, he’s off to a great start with that. He plays with a great motor.”

Along the way, Quinn has done his work against Arizona’s Levi Brown and Atlanta’s Sam Baker but he has yet to see a tackle the caliber of Dallas’ Smith.

Smith didn’t allow a sack in games against Kansas City or the New York Giants, and has proved himself to be one the league’s top up and coming tackles.

In many ways, Sunday’s matchup will be between two of the league’s best young players at their respective positions.

Rams OL vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware

Technically, this matchup should read “Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware,” but the reality is that the Cowboys have showed no inclination to put Ware in one spot and let him operate from there.

Long has been excellent in the first two weeks, particularly in Atlanta in Week 2, but in Ware he’ll find his most difficult challenge yet and one of the most difficult challenges in the league.

Ware spent his first eight seasons as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 but has showed no signs of slowing with his hand in the ground as a 4-3 end with a pair of sacks through two games.

With Rodger Saffold out because of a knee injury, the Rams will likely start Joe Barksdale at right tackle, so don’t be surprised if the Cowboys look to test the younger Barksdale by having Ware switch sides on occasion.

“I think they’re going to move him around all the time, just try to get different matchups at different times,” Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “Again, a player like that, they’d be crazy not to move him around.”