Cowboys 44, Rams 21

The Cowboys vs Rams: Good, bad, and ugly

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott celebrating

Coming into Sunday's game, the Cowboys were 0-6 against teams with a winning record. By the grace of a Christmas miracle, the boys got a much needed dominant 44-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. This was the best offensive showcase from the Cowboys all season, and was their first big victory since they defeated the Eagles in Week 7.

The Good

- I've said it once and I'll say it again, Ezekiel Elliott has been the best player on the Cowboys this season and Sunday's performance was a return to form for the Cowboys premiere running back. He ran for two scores and after his first touchdown, he essentially put the game out of the Rams' reach. His running mate Tony Pollard had his best game as a Cowboy since his break out game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3. The duo went on to make history Sunday when both running backs ran for more than 100 yards. According to Cowboys.com, the Cowboys haven't had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren 21 years ago. Now both Elliott and Pollard have done this twice in the same season. This is a franchise first. If the Cowboys continue to predicate their offense on the run game, they can compete against anyone in the league.

- Jason Witten and Sean Lee had return to form games as if they were both playing in their prime. Witten had an amazing one-handed catch for a 19 yard touchdown in the first quarter to open up the scoring. This catch was vintage Jason Witten, and showcased that he is still a reliable tight end at age 37. Lee also had his best game as a Cowboy this season. With Leighton Vander Esh being out for the fouth consecutive game, Lee has stepped up and has become one of the vocal leaders on defense along with Demarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith. He had a huge interception before half-time. It was his first interception since 2017. This set up an Ezekiel Elliott score and the Cowboys took a 28-7 lead. This interception proved to be a momentum killer for the Rams the rest of the game.

- Sean Lee wasn't the only Cowboys defender who had a good game. Rather the entire defense as a whole played great until the 4th quarter in garbage time. They were able to hold Todd Gurley and the Rams' offense to a putrid 22 yards total rushing yards. The Rams seemingly had no answer for the Cowboys rushing attack. Goff was continuously under pressure the defense forced him to make bad throws throughout the entire game.

-After a big victory like this, I will replace a bad note with another good note. I would like to be the first one to welcome Kai Forbath to the Dallas Cowboys. When Brett Maher was released, the boys needed a consistent kicker to fill his shoes. Enter Forbath. The journeyman kicker was released by the Patriots after their loss to the Texans, but his first game with the Cowboys was nothing short of spectacular. He made three field goals and all five of his extra point attempts. Needless to say, this is just want the Cowboys needed after letting go of Maher.

The bad

- A slow start was not what the Cowboys wanted coming into this must win game. Dak Prescott missed some throws early on including a missed opportunity with an open Amari Cooper. Luckily, Prescott and the boys were able to overcome this slow start and out up 28 points before halftime. Had Prescott been accurate to start the game, the Cowboys could have put up a 50 burger against the Rams. This is more of a nitpick, for the Cowboys seeming played a perfect game.

-Michael Bennett just cannot seem to play a game in which he doesn't get penalized. According to nflpenalties.com, this is his third consecutive game with a penalty and his 4th in his last 5 games. Bennett should clean up his penalties going forward. Again this is more me nitpicking to find something bad when the Cowboys played an amazing game.

The ugly

- The opening kickoff and what transpired afterwards was bizarre to say the least. Allegedly, Prescott said he wanted to play defense first, but used words that lead to some confusion. When asked again by the referee, Prescott said he wanted to kick and defer in the second half. It sounded as if the Cowboys wanted to kick twice once to start the game and again after halftime. It got so confusing that the league had to step in and fix it to where the Rams kicked the ball to start the second half. Prescott later said that it was a "bad use of words by me", and later joked about it in his post-game press conference. It's not every day that a kickoff is the subject of controversy.

- There really isn't much else I can say about the Cowboys from an ugly perspective. But for the Rams, my goodness what happened to the their superior offense. Todd Gurley had no answer for the Cowboys front 7 and has not looked the same since his subpar performance in the Super Bowl. He had two terrible dropped passed including one that would have been a wide open two-point conversion killing any kind of momentum the Rams where trying to build. He has had games in which he rushed for more than 100 yards this season, but those are few and far between. His days as the primer running back in football are over, and the stage has been set for Ezekiel Elliott to be the best back in the NFL.

- Jared Goff's contract appears to be the worst in the NFL, and it's not close. Both Prescott and Goff started the game cold missing wide open receivers and forcing the offenses to punt in their first couple of positions. Prescott was able to overcome this sluggish start, but Goff never looked good until garbage time. Prescott outplayed Goff after the Cowboys' initial score, and The Rams' offense could never get any kind of rhythm after the Cowboys went up 28-7 at halftime. Big contracts aren't always the answer to unproven young quarterbacks. Take the hint Jerry.

The Cowboys celebration shall be short lived, for next Sunday it's essentially the NFC East Championship Game between the boys and the Eagles. If the Cowboys win they are in the playoffs, if they lose they will have to bear the Redskins and pray that the Giants beat the Eagles. This sets up a great matchup in an otherwise underwhelming division.


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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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