The up-and-down nature of the NFL is always a fascinating thing, especially when there are two teams in the same city. Rams fans spent their Monday night questioning a lot of different things. The two Los Angeles teams are 2-2 heading into Week 5 action, but one team feels to be on the verge of an upswing and the other is like the proverbial one-armed man out on the water rowing a boat.
Both teams are favored this week to improve to 3-2, but there are a lot of questions to ponder about the matchups that lie ahead.
Dallas Cowboys at Rams (-5½, 43)
Lookahead lines prior to Week 4 had the Rams more like a touchdown favorite, but the Cowboys continued to impress with Cooper Rush in place of Dak Prescott and the Rams laid a giant egg against a formidable foe for the second time this season. The Rams are still clearly favored at SoFi Stadium, but this season is not off to the start that the reigning Super Bowl champs were seeking.
Even in the games against Atlanta and Arizona, there were critical mistakes and concerning signs. The games against Buffalo and San Francisco were full of them. The Cowboys aren’t on the level of the Bills or the 49ers, but Dallas is playing well and has won three in a row.
The Cowboys defense was bailed out by takeaways last season. From a yards per play standpoint and with some of the other metrics, this really wasn’t a good group, but a large amount of interceptions covered up the bad moments. This season, Dallas ranks third in points per drive allowed, despite only having four takeaways in four games. The base defense is playing well, particularly against the pass, which is a real concern for a Rams team that has shown little proficiency running the football. Dallas has allowed five yards per carry, but the Rams don’t profile as a team that can take advantage.
Los Angeles has managed only 4.7 yards per play and has nine turnovers against seven offensive touchdowns. If Cooper Kupp doesn’t get his hands on the football, this offense doesn’t really move. Even then, Kupp has averaged only 9.6 yards per reception. Tyler Higbee has only 9.4 yards per reception and has 14 more catches than the third-ranked receiver.
Most of the teams around the NFL have adopted the hallmarks of Sean McVay’s offense. He’s had a ton of success with it, so it’s nothing new for the Rams to see defenses tailored to stop it. Last season, teams still couldn’t stop it. This season, they have. The 16 sacks absorbed by Matthew Stafford have a lot to do with that. So, too, does the aforementioned lack of a running game with 3.3 yards per play.
The Rams don’t have to win in blowout fashion or even cover this week. They just need to show signs of competence on offense and let the chips fall where they may. The Rams are first in average starting field position, fifth in time of possession per drive and sixth in plays per drive, yet they rank 21st in yards per drive and 16th in points per drive.
With limited explosive play potential for the Rams and a low total of 43, it seems like winning by six or more points is a pretty big ask. It would be Cowboys or nothing here.
Pick: Cowboys +5½
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.