Preview: NFC Divisional Round – Cowboys vs. Rams
By NATE WELLER
Let’s take a brief look at some statistical notes and storylines ahead of the NFC Divisional Round playoff game between the Cowboys and Rams.
Prescott Needs to Use His Legs to Negate the Rams Pass Rush
Aaron Donald led the league with 20.5 combined sacks this year, 4.5 more sacks than runner up J.J. Watt. He also leads the league in pressure rate, pressuring the quarterback on just shy of 17 percent of pass rush snaps. Dak Prescott though has excelled when he has been able to escape the pocket. His Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR) on throws from outside the pocket is 113.2, versus 99.5 on throws from inside the pocket. Looked at another way, using SIS’s total points metric, he earned 2 points from outside the pocket, and -13.2 from inside the pocket.
If the Rams’ defensive ends can contain Prescott and keep him in the pocket, their pass rush will be very disruptive. If the Cowboys’ offense is going to be successful, Prescott will need to extend some plays with his feet and continue making plays from outside of the pocket.
The Cowboys Need to Run Smart
On runs against a defense with less than 8 men in the box, Ezekiel Elliot leads the NFL with 5.1 yards per attempt (Y/A). This number drops drastically to 3.3 when facing a stacked box. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the Rams stacked the box on defense more than any team in the NFL this year, doing so on 17.5 percent of defensive snaps.
On third or fourth down with less than a yard to go, this number jumps all the way to 46 percent (3rd in the league). Elliot is a crucial part of the Cowboys offense, and the Rams will likely make it a priority to stop him. If the Cowboys are going to find offensive success, they will need to use audibles to prevent sending Elliot into a stacked box consistently, and Prescott will likely need to make some plays with his arm on short yardage downs to take advantage of an aggressive Rams defense.
Goff Needs to Find a Way to Beat the Cowboys Zone
The Cowboys play in zone coverage 52 percent of the time, the 8th most in the NFL, and in man coverage 35 percent of snaps. (Screen, prevent, and combo coverages make up the remaining percentage). Against man coverage this season Jared Goff posted an IQR of 114.4 (4th), compared to an IQR of only 96.7 (18th) on passes versus zone coverage. The 17.7 split is the 6th largest among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. Additionally, Goff has thrown 9 of his 12 interceptions against zone coverage.
IQR vs Man
IQR vs Zone
The Rams Offense Needs to Get Back on Track
Since the bye, Goff’s IQR of 79.7 ranks 30th among quarterbacks. This number is mostly due to a particularly bad three game stretch coming out of the bye where he posted IQR’s of 78.1, 23.5, and 75.1 in consecutive games.
Through week 15, the Rams had used 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) on 96 percent of offensive snaps, almost 20 percentage points higher than the next closest team. In weeks 16 and 17, the Rams only ran 56 percent of plays out of 11, and used 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) on 40 percent of offensive snaps. In limited action in these two games, Goff threw out of 12 personnel 11 times (he had 1 such attempt in the 14 games prior), completing 8 of them for 88 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, an IQR of 147.
The Rams also found success running the ball out of 12 personnel in the team’s final two games. C.J Anderson and John Kelley ran the ball a total of 37 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. Put into context, the Rams ran the ball out of 12 personnel a total of 16 times the first 14 games of the season. With Gurley back in the lineup, it’s possible the Rams will continue to lean on 12 personnel sets.