Matthew Stafford’s football roots are in the Dallas area, where he won a state championship with Highland Park High School.
He went on to be a prized recruit, a star at the University of Georgia and the No. 1 overall pick. And while Stafford has returned before to play against the Dallas Cowboys, he will do so as a Super Bowl champion for the first time on Sunday when his Los Angeles Rams visit AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (on FOX).
The Rams have seen peaks and valleys to start the season but are coming off a 24-17 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that dropped them to 3-4. They’re 2-1 on the road, beating the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts but falling to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Competing in the NFC West, however, appears more plausible after the San Francisco 49ers dropped two straight games.
Stafford’s homecoming comes with quite the challenge, as the Cowboys have won 10 straight games at home with an average margin of victory of 16.4 points. They’ve beaten the New York Jets 30-10 and New England Patriots 38-3 at home this season. And Dallas is coming off a bye week after beating the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17 in Week 6, improving to 4-2.
So it makes sense that the sportsbooks favor the Cowboys in this one, making them around 6.5 point-spread favorites with a over/under of about 45.5. That falls in line with our Rams-Cowboys prediction that has Dallas as the best bet with a 55.7% chance of victory and a projected score of 24-21.
While the Cowboys have gotten plenty of attention for making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks this season, the underdog Rams have been nearly as good in that area.
2023 Opponent Passer Rating
- Baltimore Ravens (70.8)
- New Orleans Saints (72.6)
- San Francisco 49ers (73.7)
- Dallas Cowboys (76.0)
- Los Angeles Rams (79.0)
DAL KEY: Find CeeDee Deep
Dak Prescott is coming off his best game of the year. Despite getting sacked five times, he threw for a season-high 272 yards and a touchdown in a matchup with the Chargers in NFL Week 6. He also added 40 yards and a score on the ground. Most importantly, he did not have a turnover.
Prescott’s 9.1 passing yards per attempt in that game were also a season high, but that number was helped by a 60-yard catch-and-run by Tony Pollard early in the fourth quarter.
For the most part, the Cowboys have not had a quick-strike offense this year. Dallas has 10 passing plays of 25 yards or more this season, putting it in the bottom half of the league. This is no surprise with Prescott’s 7.1 air yards per attempt, the fifth-lowest average among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 passes.
With Mike McCarthy calling plays this season, the Cowboys have had a methodical offense, collecting first downs and stringing together long drives in order to score.
Most 10+ Play Drives in 2023
- T-1. Dallas Cowboys (19)
- T-1. Philadelphia Eagles (19)
- T-3. Kansas City Chiefs (17)
- T-3. Las Vegas Raiders (17)
- T-3. New York Giants (17)
Despite the Rams’ general success at slowing down opposing quarterbacks, they have been susceptible to allowing the big play. They’ve given up 14 passing plays of 25 yards or more this season, tied for 24th in the NFL.
Los Angeles also has the fourth-fewest sacks (12) this year and have a pressure rate of 35.9%, which is hovering around league average.
Likely having time to throw and with opportunities downfield, this could be the week McCarthy dials up some deeper passes – and CeeDee Lamb could be the key.
Since they drafted him with a first-round pick in 2020, the Cowboys are 10-3 when Lamb has a catch of 35 receiving yards or more and they are 7-1 when he has at least eight receptions.
Lamb has averaged 4.4 burn yards per route run when lining up outside – the seventh-best mark among pass catchers with at least 50 routes as an outside receiver.
While Dallas has been hesitant to air it out in search of the big play, Lamb has a chance to find some space in the secondary and make an impact.
LA KEY: Stay Balanced
While Stafford’s homecoming will put him in the spotlight, the 15th-year veteran is not enjoying his best statistical season. With seven touchdowns and six interceptions, Stafford’s 82.3 passer rating is on pace to be his lowest since 2012 (79.8).
Since Cooper Kupp made his season debut in Week 5 after dealing with a hamstring injury, Stafford has thrown four touchdowns to just one interception.
Kupp has lined up in the slot for half of his snaps this season, but it could be difficult to find space there this week. Dallas’ DaRon Bland has excelled in the slot with a 16.7% burn-allowed rate, which is second among defenders with at least 20 coverage snaps in the slot.
But while throwing to targets like Kupp and rookie sensation Puka Nacua is always tempting, passing against Dallas has proven treacherous this season.
Led by All-Pro Micah Parsons, the Cowboys have an NFL-best 44.0% pressure rate. Their secondary has been nearly as good, boasting a 42.8% burn-allowed rate that ranks fourth in the league.
Stafford has struggled against pressure this season and 60.7% of his attempts while under duress have been on target, well below the league average of 71.3%.
If the Dallas defense has a weakness, however, it is in stopping the ground game. Opponents have a 39.9% success rate on designed runs against the Cowboys this season, the seventh-worst rate in the league.
The Rams have had a top-five rushing attack with a success rate of 41.4% on designed runs and would be wise to stay balanced to slow down the Cowboys’ fearsome pass rush.
Pct of Rushes Gaining 4+ Yds
- Los Angeles Rams (50.0)
- Carolina Panthers (49.3)
- Chicago Bears (48.6)
- Miami Dolphins (48.3)
- Green Bay Packers (48.3)
Leading rusher Kyren Williams remains on injured reserve with an ankle injury, but the offensive line stepped up to help running backs Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson Jr. rush for a combined for 127 yards last week against the Steelers.
Since Sean McVay became head coach in 2017, Los Angeles is 25-5 when rushing for at least 140 yards, including 2-0 this season.
If Stafford is to have a victorious homecoming and end the Cowboys’ 10-game home winning streak, the key could be taking the ball out of his hands from the opening kickoff.