NFL Nation: Cowboys-Rams

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Cowboys weren't the only ones fooled by the Rams' offense in Week 7. I was right there with them.

 
 Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
 Steven Jackson rushed for 160 yards against Dallas on Sunday.

What the Rams showed against the Redskins in Week 6 looked nothing like what the Rams showed the Cowboys during a 34-14 victory at the Edward Jones Dome.

The Rams used three wide receivers about 55 percent of the time at Washington. This seemed to make sense after tight end Randy McMichael landed on injured reserve. But the approach changed dramatically against the Cowboys. I counted three receivers on the field for less than 27 percent of the snaps. Instead, we saw the return of the tight end(s) in St. Louis.

I asked tight end Anthony Becht about this and here is what he said:

"I think last week it was just a matter of that's what they gave us. They showed on tape how they were crowding the box and our passing game was kind of in between where we want it to be. This week, Donnie [Avery] was in the game and some of the young receivers presented a little bit of speed, so they had to honor it. It worked out for us."

This combination has the potential to offer the Rams the best of two worlds. In theory, Avery's speed on the outside should help Steven Jackson in the ground game. Before we dive into other personnel-related observations, let me offer this Excel file, which breaks down production by personnel group while providing a sortable play-by-play sheet.

Charting offensive personnel becomes relatively easy on 95 percent of plays after enough practice. The Rams made me think a couple of times. I'm pretty sure they went with one back, one receiver and three tight ends on a couple plays. It's possible one of the tight ends was actually a running back. We're talking about only a couple plays, so no big deal either way.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams quarterback Marc Bulger as saying the coaching change had maximum effect because it came during the bye week. Bulger:

"Because we had that bye week at the same time we had the coaching change, it was like we were starting a whole new season. It wasn't because Scott [Linehan] was bad or Jim was better. It was because they made a change, and it was not a little change. It was huge change. ... There was no guarantee that it would work, but it did. And I think because it wasn't a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound, that's why it had a huge impact on everyone in the locker room."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch marks the return of professional football to St. Louis after the Rams hammered the Cowboys in Week 7.

Also from Thomas: Running back Steven Jackson could miss the Rams' upcoming game against New England after suffering a thigh injury.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' defense bears no resemblance to the one that struggled so mightily early in the season.

Also from Coats: A report card with glowing grades, including an A-minus for Bulger.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Haslett's attitude has rubbed off on the Rams. Haslett cut loose with a rant against the Cowboys before the Rams ran onto the field. Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi calls Haslett a natural head coach.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat offers an injury update on the Rams, from Jackson to Adam Carriker.

Also from Korte: How, again, can the Rams look so different?

Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams weren't on anyone's radar heading into Week 7. The Cowboys seemed to get all the attention. The Rams' defense changed that Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- The Rams are a new team with new life under new coach Jim Haslett.

The transformation has been more dramatic than anyone could have anticipated. The Rams are suddenly a spirited and physical team with a chance to win every game.

Quarterback Marc Bulger again showed more toughness and leadership than in the past by taking hits and bouncing back to make plays. Steven Jackson ran relentlessly and found a lot more room against the Cowboys than he did during a victory over the Redskins in Week 6. His 25-carry, 160-yard performance allowed the Rams to control the clock, a huge help for the Rams' defense.

Injuries to defensive lineman Adam Carriker and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa could prove costly depending on the severity. But the Rams are showing how attitude can compensate for personnel issues. Haslett deserves much of the credit. He's looking like the right man at the right time for a franchise seeking to establish itself again.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

ST. LOUIS -- Referee John Parry upped his record to 6-0 in replay challenges this season, shooting down Cowboys coach Wade Phillips in the first quarter at the Edward Jones Dome.

Phillips had a 4-0 record in challenges his season coming into this game. Not any more. The lost challenge allows the Rams to take possession in Dallas territory while holding a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter. Phillips had challenged a Cowboys fumble.

The Rams continue to play with the emotion they showed against the Redskins in Week 6. The Cowboys appear lost on both sides of the ball. The Rams have been able to take their pick between the ground game and throwing deep to Donnie Avery.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at New York Giants (4-1), 1 p.m. ET

Trusting the Giants' Eli Manning is a lot easier than trusting the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan, even after Manning tossed three picks against the Browns in Week 6. That's where this game hinges.

Defenses are forcing O'Sullivan into interceptions at a furious rate. O'Sullivan has thrown seven picks in his last three games. The 49ers are 0-3 largely as a result.

The solution -- handing the ball to Frank Gore more frequently when the 49ers are leading -- appears almost too obvious. Look for that story line to get a rest this week. The Giants have the offensive line and playmaking ability to take the lead and force the 49ers into obvious passing situations. The combination should fuel a lopsided Giants victory.

Turnovers can be the great equalizer, something the Rams proved against the Redskins in Week 6. I just don't see the 49ers winning the turnover battle. The 49ers lead the NFL with 15 giveaways. The Giants rank third with only four.

Dallas Cowboys (4-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Rams are playing with an edge that helped them upset the Redskins while also nearly costing them the game. While they don't need any more 15-yard penalties from guard Richie Incognito, the new attitude players are showing under Jim Haslett does give them a chance to compete and possibly pull an upset.

It's probably wise to discount what the Rams had become under Scott Linehan. Their talent was better than that. The Rams thought their defensive line would provide a strong pass rush this season. I just question whether the Rams can score enough points to put the Cowboys in obvious passing situations.

This is a game Dallas should win even without Tony Romo. But the Cowboys can't take the outcome for granted. The Rams will beat teams that underestimate them.

Seattle Seahawks (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2), 8:15 p.m. ET

Seneca Wallace probably gets the start at quarterback for Seattle. A calf injury figures to limit his mobility, which was one of his strengths. I also question whether Wallace will be sharp enough after missing so much practice time in recent weeks.

The Seattle passing game simply isn't functioning at a high enough level for the Seahawks to beat good teams, particularly on the road. It's a stretch to think that will change dramatically with Wallace replacing Charlie Frye.

The Bucs think big-play receiver Joey Galloway has a chance to return from injury this week. That's fitting from a Seattle perspective. The Seahawks' defense is giving up big pass plays and Galloway -- traded by Seattle in 2000 -- figures to find openings deep downfield.

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