Los Angeles Rams: Three key matchups vs. Dallas

Dec 15, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) catches a pass against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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The Los Angeles Rams are set to host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football to kick off their 2020 season. With both teams fielding talented rosters, there are a ton of matchups to watch on all three phases of the game.

Of course, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this matchup, with two quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL Draft class squaring off on primetime. Jared Goff was the No. 1 selection in 2016 while Dak Prescott was a mid-round gem in the fourth round for the Cowboys.

Ever since both of them were drafted, Goff and Prescott have shown plenty of potential under center. In their short careers, Goff and Prescott have faced each other three times (including the playoffs). Heading into Sunday’s much-anticipated contest, Goff holds the upper-hand over Prescott, beating the Cowboys twice in his three meetings with them.

Aside from the quarterback position, there are quite a few battles that will be worth watching on Sunday night. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three key matchups to keep an eye on in Los Angeles’ season debut versus Dallas.

Rob Havenstein vs. DeMarcus Lawrence

A season ago, one of the biggest talking points for the Rams was the performance of their offensive line. While Goff didn’t perform particularly well, the offensive line didn’t do him any favors either.

On the surface, the offensive line was remarkable, allowing a league-low 22 sacks on their franchise quarterback. However, Goff was hurried on his throws 52 times (15th most in the NFL) and was hit 48 times (10th most in the NFL).

For the Rams to revert to having a high-octane offense again, they’ll need their offensive line to play exponentially better than they did in 2019. Against the Cowboys in Week 1, Rob Havenstein is the one offensive lineman in particular that fans should be watching.

Havenstein struggled last season, surrendering five sacks and he committed eight penalties at right tackle. What is even more concerning is that those numbers came in only nine games due to him suffering a season-ending meniscus injury.

Nevertheless, Havenstein is slated to return to right tackle and his first game back will be against two-time Pro Bowler, DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is more than capable of disrupting a game off of the edge and it will be up to Havenstein to prevent that from happening. If Havenstein manages to stumble out the gates on Sunday, his starting job could be in jeopardy with Bobby Evans itching to get an opportunity.

Aaron Donald vs. Cowboys Interior offensive line

Social media can be unhinged at times and that is exactly what it was when there was a legitimate discussion recently on whether or not Aaron Donald is a formidable run defender. Even though Donald and Sean McVay didn’t pay any mind to the argument that was had between media pundits, the All-Pro interior defender is motivated to prove why he’s arguably the most dominant force in the NFL.

After winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2017 and 2018, Donald still compiled impressive numbers in 2019 despite not taking home the hardware for the third consecutive season. The former first-round pick notched 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 24 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles last season.

Similar to his previous offseasons, Donald never seemed to take his foot off the gas this offseason, bettering himself for the 2020 season. And with new defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley, we could see Donald utilized in ways we’ve never seen him used before.

Common sense says that when the Rams face the Cowboys, Staley will do anything his power to have Donald lined up across Joe Looney or Connor Williams. At the same time, in certain situations, fans will get to watch Donald go mano a mano with Zack Martin —  who is arguably the best guard in the league. Martin didn’t allow a single sack in his 1,114 offensive snaps in 2019.

Regardless of who he faces, Donald is sure to be involved in the Rams’ gameplan on the defensive side of the ball. In the event that Donald isn’t recording numbers in the box score, then he should be making life easier for the other guys in the front seven against Dallas.

Jalen Ramsey vs. Amari Cooper

There’s no question that the Cowboys would love to come out firing with their potent aerial attack on Sunday night. After adding CeeDee Lamb in the 2020 NFL Draft, Dallas features a skill group that includes, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, Blake Jarwin, and Tony Pollard.

Fortunately for the Rams, they have enough manpower in the secondary to compete with the Cowboys — at least on paper. It goes without saying that the marquee matchup is going to between Jalen Ramsey and Cooper.

Ramsey is now the richest cornerback in the NFL after signing a historic extension with Los Angeles. He’ll unquestionably be motivated to prove that he is well worth the money by producing a stellar outing in Week 1.

Even though the Cowboys routed the Rams last season, fans were in for a treat with Ramsey shadowing Cooper. It was Ramsey who prevailed last year, limiting Cooper to one reception on two targets for 19 yards.

With both teams deploying high-powered offenses in this game, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if we get a shootout on Sunday Night Football. The last three games between Los Angeles and Dallas have had an average total score of 60.7 points per game. Given the fact that Ramsey and Cooper are two of the best players at their respective positions, expect to see their matchup get a handsome amount of on-air time when these teams clash on Sunday night.

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