Aaron Donald and the Rams look to extend the Cowboys' slide
The 2019 NFL season has not seen the Dallas Cowboys or Los Angeles Rams live up to expectations. But for one of these teams, Sunday’s matchup presents an opportunity to right the ship — or at least start to.
The Cowboys (6-7) have dropped seven of their last 10 games after starting the season 3-0. That drop-off has caused head coach Jason Garrett’s proverbial hot seat to get interesting once again. Even at 6-7, Dallas is tied atop the NFC East lead with the Eagles and will end the season with a pair of divisional matchups.
The Rams (8-5), on the other hand, have been up and down throughout 2019, but signs point to a potential turnaround. Despite being on the road, Los Angeles still holds a slight advantage in the eyes of Vegas, being a 1.5-point favorite heading into the game. They'll need that to hold up too, as they're a game behind the Vikings for the second NFC wild-card spot.
Los Angeles at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams 1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Los Angeles continue its hot streak?
One of the main reasons that the Rams are road favorites this weekend is how each team has played over the last few weeks. The Cowboys have dropped three straight by an average of 7.3 points per game, and the most frustrating part has been the lack of offense, as they’ve scored only 16 points per game during that span.
And sure, the Rams displayed an embarrassingly bad performance against the Ravens (4-65) on "Monday Night Football" just a few weeks ago, but the last two games have been more than promising. Against the division-rival Cardinals and Seahawks, Sean McVay’s team has outscored them by a combined 62-19. The question is whether or not they can keep it up against the Cowboys in Week 15.
2. Aaron Donald vs. the Dallas OL
The Los Angeles pass rush has really started putting things together over the last two weeks. After posting 30 sacks through the first 11 games, the unit has come together and collected 11 over the last two. A major reason for that is Donald, the perennial All-Pro and two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Pittsburgh product started the season slow (one sack through five games), but has been on a tear ever since. In the last eight games, Donald has 10 sacks, including three in the last two games alone.
The Dallas offensive line has struggled to stay healthy for most of the season, but La’el Collins (knee) and Tyron Smith (Achilles) have been full participants in practice while Zack Martin (elbow/ankle) has been limited. This will be an intriguing matchup to watch come Sunday afternoon.
3. The health of Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee
Once again, it looks like Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys’ 2018 first-round pick, won’t be available to play due to a neck injury. He’s currently listed as doubtful, and it’s possible that the Boise State product could end up on injured reserve before it’s all said and done.
What makes that situation with Vander Esch more problematic is that his backup, longtime Cowboy Sean Lee, could also miss Sunday’s game against the Rams. The 33-year old linebacker has been dealing with a pectoral issue and has missed multiple days of practice.
With Todd Gurley beginning to heat up (228 total yards and two touchdowns in the last two games), the Cowboys defense could struggle to consistently stop the Rams' run game. That would allow former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff to play complementary football instead of putting the game on his shoulders. That would not be a good recipe for Dallas.
With the way these two teams are playing, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which the Cowboys are able to squeak out a win. Granted, there is a lot of talent in Dallas, especially on offense, so Garrett and company just need to get things going. It should be a closer game than the last two we have seen the Rams play in, but it won’t be enough to get an outright victory. In the end, Los Angeles makes it three straight.
Prediction: Rams 27, Cowboys 24
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.