Three things: Rams-Cowboys

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
5:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. – Three things to keep an eye on as the St. Louis Rams visit the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon at 1 ET.

Better start.

The Rams have gotten off to a slow start in each of their first two games -- which has left them scrambling to make second-half comebacks.

In the opener against Arizona, the Rams were able to overcome a sluggish beginning that left them facing an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit; they couldn’t do the same in Week 2 against Atlanta, when they had to try to erase a 21-point, second-half margin.

The blame can’t be assigned to any one phase, as the offense has struggled to get going, the defense has given up big plays and special teams have struggled to win the field-position battle. All three phases have been guilty of costly penalties.

To get a victory in Dallas this week, the Rams would do themselves a big favor by getting off to a better start.

“If you get behind in the first quarter, you are at a huge disadvantage,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It’s one thing to be at home, but to be on the road and do that … we have got to find a way to start faster. How do we do that? How do we start faster?

“We’ve shown that when we kind of turn it on in the second half of games, it’s been pretty good, but that inconsistency, if we don’t fix that, that inconsistency at the end of the year, you know a winning record, that’s what we are fighting for.”

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportDespite a possible last-place finish, another win over Arizona would prove that James Laurinaitis and the Rams aren't pushovers in the NFC West.
Something’s gotta give.

One of the reasons the Rams have struggled defensively so far this season has been a consistent inability to get off the field when third-down opportunities arise. Through the first two weeks, the Rams are tied for last in the league in third-down defense, allowing opponents to pick up a first down 51.9 percent of the time.

This week, St. Louis faces a Dallas team that could have trouble taking advantage of the Rams’ early difficulties in that area. The Cowboys have regularly failed to keep drives alive on third down, converting just 30.8 percent of the time, good for 29th in the league.

Logic dictates that one side is going to have to have some measure of success this week -- and the one that does better on third down could go a long way toward a victory.

“I have to clean up that part of it and put them in better situations to allow them to get off the field on third down,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “That’ll take care of most of it right there, because if you get off the field more on third down, that eliminates the extra plays that you have to play during the course of the game. That takes 10-12 plays off the game -- and that’s on me to get that done.”

Pushing the pace.

It’s a topic that probably been talked about too much in St. Louis this week, but the fact remains that the Rams have been more successful offensively this year when they go to their two-minute, no-huddle offense.

They’ve maintained that they won’t be turning to that approach on a regular basis, and it’d be silly to expect them to do so, but it is worth wondering if the Rams might start using it as a changeup earlier in games rather than waiting until they fall behind.

The offense moves the ball and puts up points out of the faster tempo -- and quarterback Sam Bradford has indicated a preference toward using the approach on occasion to keep defenses off balance.

“I like it,” Bradford said. “I think we had success last week with it. Obviously, we were down. They were playing a pretty soft zone (coverage), so it was easy to get a lot of completions. I think it put them on their heels a little bit. Any time you go fast, it just forces them to think quicker than they’re normally having to.”

We’ll see if the Rams look to incorporate the fast-break style a bit sooner against the Cowboys.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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