The first Sunday Night Football contest of the year could have gone either way, with multiple controversial calls and missed opportunities on both sides. But in the end, it was the Los Angeles Rams who took home the 20-17 victory.
Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.
STORY OF THE GAME
The Rams came out firing on all cylinders, orchestrating a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive within the first 4 minutes of the game. The Dallas Cowboys were unable to reply on the following series, running five plays before opting to punt on fourth down.
The Cowboys lost star linebacker Leighton Vander-Esch to a broken collarbone early in the game, leaving a critical hole in the middle of the defense that the Rams would ultimately take advantage of. Making matters worse for the Cowboys, Vander-Esch is now headed to injured reserve and will miss a significant portion of the season.
Los Angeles ran the ball a total of 25 times, with the majority of their attempts going up the middle. Second-round running back Cam Akers started the game and received 14 carries, though he was only able to gain just under 40 yards on the ground. The real star of the Rams' backfield was Malcolm Brown, who carried the rock 18 times for 79 yards and two scores, punishing the Dallas defense.
The Cowboys' run game was a one-man show tonight, with Ezekiel Elliott responsible for 22 of the team's 27 attempts and 60 of their 70 snaps. He gained nearly 100 rushing yards and came away with two scores — one on the ground and one through the air.
Jared Goff was dinking and dunking for the majority of the contest, generating an average depth of target of just 4.9 yards, the second-lowest mark of the week behind Jaguars' Gardner Minshew. Over 70% of his passing yards were gained after the catch, highlighting the Rams' game plan against Dallas' vaunted defensive line.
— NFL (@NFL) September 14, 2020
Goff did throw an interception — which was sill an ill-advised throw — though there was a missed penalty on Aldon Smith, who hit Goff's facemask as the ball was released. Speaking of Smith, he was on a tear in his first NFL action since 2015 and led his teammates in total pressures.
The quick passing game resulted in the Rams allowing a pressure rate of just 8.8% while the Cowboys gave up a horrendous 33.3%. The constant pressure affected Dak Prescott, who struggled to get much going through the air in his first game with new head coach Mike McCarthy. His receivers' production also suffered, as Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb were all held below 100 yards, and all failed to find the end zone. Gallup had a late fourth-quarter deep catch called back for offensive pass interference, which effectively sealed the Cowboys' fate.
Though the Rams had contributions from Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee in the reiving game, Robert Woods was the star of the offense. He hauled in all six of his targets for over 100 yards and even received a handoff for another 14 yards.
Aaron Donald was as monstrous as ever, generating an NFL-leading 10 total QB pressures, though that figure could change upon review. He also had help from the recently added Leonard Floyd and the veteran Michael Brockers, who both accumulated a handful of pressures.
The Dallas defense did their best to contain the Rams offense, but no secondary member was able to get their hands on the football outside of the aforementioned interception.
Despite the strong stop by Trevon Diggs that forced a fourth-and-1 punt, the Cowboys were unable to capitalize offensively with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Three Rams rookies received playing time tonight: second-round picks Cam Akers and Van Jefferson and sixth-round defensive back Jordan Fuller. Akers received the second-most touches out of the backfield and remained in the rotation even as Brown was getting into a rhythm.
Jefferson only hauled in one catch, but it was a great snag deep down the sideline that gained 31 yards. Meanwhile, Fuller was targeted six times, allowing four catches and three first downs. It was not all bad, though, as he came up with a key tackle that forced a turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys also had a trio of rookies see the field in first-round receiver Lamb, second-round cornerback Diggs and undrafted rookie tackle Terence Steele.
Lamb was impressive, reeling in five of seven targets for 59 yards. He did not find the end zone, but he has already shown to have earned the trust of his signal-caller.
Diggs was targeted three times in coverage, allowing all to be caught for first downs. He had great positioning on two of these plays, however, and was just outplayed at the catch point. He also picked up the crucial third-down tackle which forced the Rams to punt, giving the Cowboys their last offensive drive to try and win the game.
Steele had the worst night of the bunch, allowing a sack and two QB hits from the right tackle position. The Rams targeted him late in the game, overloading the opposite side of the line and forcing him into one-on-one matchups.