For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Rams will open their preseason schedule against the Dallas Cowboys. This year, the pomp and circumstance of the return of the Rams, and NFL football overall, to Los Angeles is gone. Football was already back. Now with the Los Angeles Chargers across town, more football is back than most (all?) wanted.
So as the 2017 Los Angeles Rams get underway, I linked up with Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys, the SB Nation community for Cowboys fans.
1.) A year ago as we talked in advance of our preseason opener against each other, you said the following: “I think the hope (being optimistic) is that the team can return to the level of the 2014 Cowboys who went 12-4 and won a playoff game. That obviously revolves around the health of Tony Romo, without him, the season could easily go sideways again.” My question is why can’t the Rams ever have a season go sideways as well as everyone else? In seriousness though, the 2016 NFL Draft for you guys seemed to work out above average…where are expectations now given last year?
It’s funny reading that line about Tony Romo now, given what we know about Dak Prescott. At the time I wrote that, it really did feel like that without Romo, the Cowboys would be sunk. Given the shock to the system provided by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys expectations, as well as the fans, are to contend for the Super Bowl this year. They certainly think they have the horses on offense to do it, it is on the defensive side of the ball where most of the question marks are still. Can they generate a pass rush, will a revamped secondary play well? That is where the worry is this year, but expectations are very high for this team and should be after a 13-3 season.
2.) Among the starters for the first quarter, what do Rams fans need to know? What are the strengths on both sides of the ball that should challenge the Rams’ starters?
I doubt that the starters will play more than a series or two, and they still might hold out some of the bigger names. For instance, left tackle Tyron Smith might be held out because of back tightness. And the Cowboys are breaking in some new guys on the offensive line, so while that is usually a strength, it might be a little ragged in this game. Even if Zeke doesn’t play or is limited, the Cowboys have a strong stable of running backs and a great group of receivers. They should be able to challenge the Rams defense across the board.
Defensively, the Cowboys are still trying to find themselves. They have a lot of guys they play along the d-line, but they haven’t found the one or two guys who can win the battles consistently, so that will be a point of interest. They are also trying to work in some rookies in the secondary. If they can contain the Rams early, that will be big for their confidence.
3.) Who are the newcomers that Cowboys are eager to see in terms of impact free agents and rookies? And how are yall going to get work in for all those defensive rooks?
Defensive end Taco Charlton, the Cowboys first-round pick, is likely to get a lot of playing time. His game was sub-par last week, he just didn’t show enough against the Cardinalsbackups, so the team is hoping he’ll be more productive now that he’s gotten his professional debut behind him. The Cowboys might see the debut of fourth-round pick WR Ryan Switzer, he’s been slowed by hamstring issues in camp, but has been practicing the past couple of days. Look for him to return punts and work in the slot if he plays. Then there is the crop of rookie defensive backs the Cowboys will play in the secondary. Chidobe Awuzie is a guy the team is very excited about, a second-round pick who can play corner, safety and even a little linebacker in certain dime formations. He’ll mostly get work at corner. Third-round corner Jourdan Lewis won’t play because of hamstring problems. Expect late-round corner Marquez White and late-round safety Xavier Woods to see plenty of time, especially in the second half.
4.) What are we looking at in the second half? Which UDFA/deep roster guys are Cowboys fans intrigued by? Any guys that struggle that Rams fans shouldn’t get too excited if one of our guys takes advantage of?
Rico Gathers at tight end is a guy that has been the talk of camp. He’s a college basketball player turned tight end who spent last year learning on the practice squad. He has had a great camp and caught a touchdown last week, the kid has enormous athletic gifts, so he’s a guy that is really intriguing. Running back Rod Smith will get a lot of carries, and he’s a guy who is trying to force his way on to the roster. On defense, a linebacker named Joseph Jones was a tackling machine last week, we’ll see if he can repeat it. Also, defensive tackle Lewis Neal has created some buzz at camp, but he needs some splash plays in the preseason games.
5.) I talked about this on our podcast this week, but the Rams-Cowboys relationship has really developed in the last couple of years. Once Rams Owner Stan Kroenke starting working to relocate the team to Los Angeles, he and Jerry Jones turned into pretty strong allies. In 2015, that alliance led to the joint training camp practices in Oxnard. Jones of course helped Kroenke immensely in getting the Rams’ approved to move to LA. No surprise then that you guys came out to LA for Preseason Week 1 last year to reintroduce the Rams and NFL football to Los Angeles. And no surprised you’re back again. How do you see this relationship playing out? Right now, it’s amicable at the ownership level. Any animosity among the fans stemming from the camp fight in 2015? If the Rams play spoiler on October 1 in Arlington, could you see a mini-rivalry of sorts budding?
I don’t think there is any animosity leftover from the training camp incidents of a couple of years ago. I rarely hear any fans talking about that nowadays. I also think it will be hard for any real rivalry to build up because the Cowboys and the Rams just won’t play each other enough in the regular season. I can see them playing preseason games a lot because of the location of the Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, and maybe joint practices in the future, but my feeling is fans tend to forget about those things once the regular season shows up. That’s the place where you build a rivalry and they just don’t seem to play each other enough. If they both are in the playoffs together for a few years, then it can build like what is happening with the Cowboys and the Packers (and it happened with those two teams in the 90s, too), but that’s probably the only way to get a real rivalry going.