It’s always been said that playoff games and championships are won in the trenches, the trenches being the offensive and defensive lines. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles.
Another popular narrative come January is that defense and a strong running game always travels well. The Cowboys check all of those boxes, but it will need to take more than a steady dose of Zeke and Demarcus Lawrence to take down the 13-3 Rams. Though he’s not mentioned below, you’re not alone in hoping for the big Tavon Austin revenge game.
As the Cowboys come to visit Los Angeles, here are the five key players for Saturday that you might want to take a second look at:
LG Connor Williams
While Williams was taken in the second-round of the 2018 draft by Dallas, he had a pretty pedestrian rookie season. He began the year as the starter at LG, but a knee injury knocked him out after Week 9.
As that transpired, backup LG at the time Xavier Su’a-Filo was thrown into the starter’s role, where he thrived and outplayed Williams and ultimately won the starting job. Then with Su’a-Filo suffering an eye injury in Week 15 at Indianapolis, Williams has been the starter since, after being relatively forgotten about beforehand.
Williams had been shaky through his first eight games, but since Su’a-Filo went down, he’s looked considerably better in his last three starts. Even against the Seahawks in the Wildcard match up, he stood tall to a rather productive defensive line only being beaten cleanly once on a great move by Frank Clark.
The task at hand only gets more difficult though with the likes of likely DPOY Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers lurking in the middle of that Rams defensive front.
We’re not asking for a perfect game from Williams, but these defensive tackles are better than last weeks, and he’ll need to hold somewhat strong again so that line doesn’t wreck the game for Dallas. Just keep giving Zeke the opportunity to get to the second and third levels of opposing defenses.
CB Chidobe Awuzie
Awuzie has somewhat quietly risen among the Cowboys’ ascending defense again this season. For the season, he has 71 combined tackles, a forced fumble, and interception.
Most advanced statistics have him ranked as an ‘above-average cornerback.” Look for the Rams to try to move their offensive attack to the perimeter if the front seven plays like we all think it will. Awuzie could be called upon to make a play at some big moments Saturday night.
What a read by Chido here for his second career INT. If we remember correctly too, his first career INT came in week 17 last season in Philly. #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/DkJAm1mlQA
— Armchair Cowboys (@ArmchairCowboys) December 30, 2018
DT Antwuan Woods
Woods has had a bit of a coming out party in 2018 and now into 2019 with the Cowboys. Being the only defensive starter who wasn’t drafted and homegrown by the organization, Woods along with DT Maliek Collins have really been underrated in their performance up the middle on the Dallas defensive line this season.
Woods has been exceptional against the run, and seems to be making more and more plays every week. He’ll have his toughest task yet with the other All-World RB in this game, Todd Gurley, lining up across from him in the backfield. Dallas will need Woods to keep making strides forward, not backwards Saturday night against this offense.
Woods also couldn’t help but smile when he found out the Cowboys would be playing the Rams, because he knew he was going home. Woods played at USC from 2012-15 after growing up in Los Angeles and attending Taft Charter High School, just west of Sherman Oaks. You can bet he’ll be a little extra fired up for this one.
WR Amari Cooper
Its scary to think what the Cowboys season would look like if they didn’t go and trade for Amari Cooper. They’ve only lost one game since acquiring him, winning eight of nine games since.
He was Dak’s favorite target against the Seahawks, hauling in seven of nine targets for 106 yards, and he’s really opened things up for Zeke since joining the team too. Depending on who he’s matched up against when talking the Rams corners of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, Cooper knows Peters rather well from their days in Raiders and Chiefs uniforms.
Historically, Cooper has torched Peters, most notably on Thursday Night Football, Week 7 of 2017 when Cooper dropped a line of 11-210-2 with mostly Peters in coverage.
This won’t be the first meeting for the two this season. In Week 1, the Raiders took on the Rams and Cooper was held to just one reception for nine yards. However, in that matchup, the Raiders avoided Peters at all cost as Cooper never saw a target when Peters was lined up across from him. If and when the Raiders threw the ball to Cooper, it was when he was lined up on Aqib Talib.
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