Creative offensive football, at least the type that Sean McVay gets credited for, brings to mind visions of quarterbacks throwing the ball all around the field to receivers running free on creative route combinations.
And certainly, the Los Angeles Rams have plenty of that. But they can also line up and punch you in the face.
The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be the team with the physical offensive line and punishing running game. Instead, it was the Rams who played some old-school playoff football, smashing the Cowboys 30-22 in an NFC divisional round playoff game. If you’re a fan who hated the Rams’ high-flying 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season, maybe you loved Saturday night’s game. The Rams will host the NFC championship game next week if the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, or they’ll travel to New Orleans if the Saints win.
Todd Gurley still isn’t completely healthy, after missing the Rams’ final two games with a knee injury, but he was healthy enough to gain 115 yards on the ground. C.J. Anderson, cut by the Panthers and Raiders during the regular season, was a surprise with another huge game. He had 123 yards on the ground.
But the real star was the Rams’ offensive line, which controlled the game. The Cowboys didn’t give up more than 178 rushing yards in a regular-season game, and yielded more than 100 only six times. The Rams passed the 200-yard mark a few minutes into the second half. They finished with 273 rushing yards, picking up 5.7 yards per carry.
Rams imposed their will against Cowboys
One sequence summed up Saturday night’s game. On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys went for it. And, considering what they’ve invested in the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, that’s the smart call. But Ndamukong Suh got a great push up the middle, safety Lamarcus Joyner wrapped up Elliott in the hole and the Cowboys were short.
On the ensuing drive, the Rams faced fourth down at the 1-yard line. A field goal would have made it a two-score lead with less than eight minutes to go. But after some deliberation, the Rams went for it. They handed it to Anderson, and Anderson plunged in for the score. Given how the Rams’ offensive line had dominated the game, it didn’t seem like much of a gamble at that point.
Even though Los Angeles has a fantastic line and an amazing running back in Todd Gurley, the perception of both teams before Saturday night probably wouldn’t have been that the Rams would be the ones lining up and pushing the Cowboys around with a forceful running game.
Rams hang on late for the win
The Cowboys didn’t go away quietly. Dak Prescott scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper with 2:11 left to cut the lead to eight points.
The Rams’ running backs starred on Saturday night, but quarterback Jared Goff had the run that sealed the win. On a third-and-7 right after the two-minute warning, Goff faked a handoff to the left, rolled out right and had open field ahead of him so he ran 11 yards for the first down. Anderson got a first down after that and the game was over.
The old cliche in football circles is that you have to run the ball to win in the playoffs. That’s not necessarily true anymore, though it is still a viable path to victory in the postseason. The Rams showed they can play that way, if the situation dictates it.
No matter who wins Sunday, the Rams will face a team that already beat them in the regular season. But if the offensive line and the running game are dominant like they were against Dallas, the rematch might have a different outcome.
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