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Destroying myths about eight 2018 NFL playoff teams in divisional round

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Eagles' Tate on game-winning catch: 'Foles dropped a dime' (1:46)

Golden Tate says that Nick Foles threw him a "dime" for the game-winning TD and how stressed he was watching Cody Parkey's missed field goal attempt. (1:46)

After 18 weeks of football, it's incredible to think there are still unknowns and mysteries surrounding the remaining playoff teams. To a greater extent than any other American sport, football is still subject to simplistic stories of who wanted it more and arguments that don't reflect what actually happened on the field. The last big play of wild-card weekend was a missed field goal attempt that nobody realized was a blocked kick for about three hours. That doesn't happen in other sports.

In other cases, an argument that might have applied to a team in the past hasn't actually been checked to see if it reflects the current squad. Some stories grade on an unreasonable curve or use a faulty baseline to measure success. Football is a sport where myths are too easily told. Let's destroy one myth for each of the eight remaining playoff teams, starting with what happened Sunday.

Jump to a team:
DAL | LAR | PHI | NO
IND | KC | LAC | NE


Philadelphia Eagles

The myth: The Eagles won Sunday because Cody Parkey missed a kick and Nick Foles is magical.

Let's start with Chicago's embattled kicker, who was booed off the field by frustrated Bears fans after Sunday's 16-15 loss. For one, Parkey hit three kicks before hitting the uprights on Chicago's final offensive snap, and that's without including the one that was erased by Doug Pederson's last-second ice. While Parkey's kick appeared to be a straight miss at first glance, the try was tipped by Eagles backup lineman Treyvon Hester. Would the kick have hit the goalpost or gone wide without the touch? Impossible to say. Should it be enough to save Parkey from angry Bears fans? I think so.

As for Foles, while it's easy to chalk up the win to some cosmic energy that prevents him from losing in the postseason, it's probably selling the Eagles' backup quarterback short. Foles actually finished the game with the best QBR (87.3) of any passer in the wild-card round, thanks to a significant opponent adjustment from playing against the stellar Bears defense.

Let me be careful with what I'm about to say. I don't think Foles is a better quarterback than Carson Wentz, in a vacuum. I don't think the Eagles have a better shot of winning the Super Bowl with Foles at quarterback than they would with Wentz. I don't think the Eagles should do anything that gets in the way of keeping Wentz as their quarterback for the next decade, even if the Eagles win a second consecutive Super Bowl with Foles under center.

I do wonder, though, whether Foles was the better option of the two for this specific matchup against a terrifying Bears pass rush. Whether it's the offensive line improving, the game plan building in extra protection, or Foles' instincts (or most likely a combination of the three), he has done a better job of avoiding sacks than Wentz. And while they have roughly similar pressure rates since the start of 2017, and get the ball out about as fast as one another, Wentz has been sacked on 6.2 percent of his dropbacks; Foles is at 3.8 percent.

The Andy Reid draftee was sacked only once on Sunday, when Leonard Floyd took him down after a low snap on Philadelphia's first possession. Foles' 2.4 percent sack rate was the second lowest for any Bears opponent this season, trailing only Brock Osweiler, who wasn't sacked once in a game in which Khalil Mack suffered an injury.

Mack finished the Eagles game with two quarterback hits, and the Eagles did little running the football, but the Bears' pass-rushers were anonymous by their usual lofty standards. Mack spent most of the game matched up against Jason Peters on the left side -- by my count, 25 of Mack's 40 snaps against Eagles pass attempts came with him on the edge against Peters -- but the legendary Eagles left tackle held his own. Perhaps curiously, the Bears chose to line up Mack on the interior only twice, with zero snaps pitting Mack directly against Eagles left guard Isaac Seumalo, the weakest point of the Philadelphia offensive line. Both snaps with Mack inside Floyd produced Foles incompletions.

Pressure did produce a truly awful interception from a scrambling Foles, one of two picks from the 29-year-old on the day. The other throw was perhaps more frustrating, with a Foles checkdown placed on the wrong side of Wendell Smallwood's body. Smallwood should have been able to shield the ball from Roquan Smith, who ripped it away for the interception, but if Foles places the ball on the opposite hip, Smallwood either catches it or the pass falls incomplete.

Otherwise, Foles was very good given the circumstances. He picked on All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller early with throws to Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery, who finished his revenge game with six catches for 82 yards. Forgotten trade acquisition Golden Tate finished with five catches for 46 yards, including a deep post where Foles managed to thread a throw between triple coverage and the game-winning fourth-down pass on a quick out.

Both plays capitalized on missing Bears starters. Chicago finished the season as one of the healthiest defenses in football, but its two missing regulars in the secondary would have made a difference. While star safety Eddie Jackson was active after missing the final two weeks of the regular season with an ankle injury, the Alabama product never saw the field. Cornerback Sherrick McManis, who took over in the slot after Bryce Callahan hit injured reserve in December, was the player Tate beat for the game-winning touchdown.

With that all being said, the Bears needed to do more offensively to win this game. Part of that falls on Mitchell Trubisky, who was dreadful for most of the first three quarters. The Eagles were able to pressure the second-year passer on 28.3 percent of his dropbacks while also keeping him from scrambling for chunks of yardage, and Trubisky and Matt Nagy had no answer until the final drive of the third quarter. On Chicago's first seven drives, which produced a total of just six points, Trubisky was 15-of-27 passing for just 123 yards. Anthony Miller had a 30-yard completion torn out of his hands at the end of the second quarter, but Trubisky also had two dead-to-rights interceptions dropped by Eagles defensive backs, including a potential pick-six by Avonte Maddox.

On that final third-quarter drive, Nagy realized that the Bears could bait Maddox with double moves. From that point forward, Trubisky was brilliant, going 11-of-16 for 180 yards while leaning on star wideout Allen Robinson. Virtually all of those throws went to Maddox's side, to the point where you have to imagine Drew Brees and Sean Payton were frantically texting each other after each and every Bears completion. I'm not sure the Eagles can run Maddox out this weekend without a backup plan if he gets burned early, even given their lack of depth at the position.

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Eagles' secondary key to success vs. Saints

Ryan Clark recaps the Philadelphia secondary's struggles vs. the Saints in the regular season and discusses how that unit needs to change for the Eagles to win.

While the double moves and pump fakes unlocked the Eagles' defense, my Coach of the Year pick handled the clock like a true Andy Reid disciple. After Jeffery caught a third-and-9 slant to set up the Eagles with a first-and-goal situation at the 1:55 mark, Nagy should have used the first of his three timeouts. The Eagles ran the ball on first and second down, which would have taken the other two timeouts, before throwing on third and fourth down. (The Eagles might have run the ball on third down if Nagy had been out of timeouts to try to burn clock, but given how ugly the first- and second-down runs were, that probably would have been a win for the Bears.)

Instead, the Bears ended up using their third timeout after a long completion to Robinson set them up on the 33-yard line with 35 seconds to go. They advanced the ball only eight yards further from that point, with a spike and a long incompletion before Parkey's 43-yard try hit the upright, the crossbar, and bounced out. If the Bears hadn't let 40 seconds run off the clock earlier, they could have used second and third down to make a meaningful attempt to advance the ball. If they had made it even three yards further down the field, Parkey's kick probably has enough to sneak through the uprights. The Bears left themselves no margin for error, and when a little-known Eagles player off of the bottom of the roster got a fingertip on the football, it sent Chicago packing.


New Orleans Saints

The myth: The NFC bracket amounts to a coronation because the Saints are unbeatable at home.

While there was a time when the Saints were dominant on their home turf, that story doesn't really add up as they enter the postseason. To start, by the simplest possible metric, the Saints were 6-2 at home this season and 7-1 on the road. Even if you want to throw away the Week 17 home loss to the Panthers with Drew Brees sitting out, the Saints lost one meaningful game at home (against the Bucs in Week 1) and one on the road (against the Cowboys in Week 13).

Over the past three years, the Saints are 17-7 at home and 13-10 on the road, with a win over the Dolphins in London to make up the ranks. Those numbers suggest that the Saints aren't unbeatable in the Superdome, nor are they significantly worse on the road. Plenty of teams have bigger gaps between their win-loss record over that same time span, including the Eagles, who are 18-6 at home in the regular season under Doug Pederson and 10-13 away from the Linc.

A better way to measure home-field advantage is by using point differential at home versus the same margin on the road. Again, this measure doesn't paint the Superdome as a fortress. The Saints were actually better on the road, outscoring teams by 10.4 points per game away from home and 8.5 points per contest in New Orleans. Throw out the Panthers game and the Saints outscored visiting teams by 12.4 points per game, which is better, but a 1.0-point home-field advantage would still be well below the league average.

Run the same numbers over the past three seasons and the Saints have outscored their opponents by 5.9 points at home and 5.5 points on the road. The resulting observed home-field advantage of 0.2 points per game would rank 29th in the league over that time frame, ahead of only the Lions, Rams and Giants. From 2012 to '14, as an example, the Saints had a 3.9-point observed home-field advantage. They're not the same Superdome-dependent team they used to be.

While this might sound like a criticism, I think it's actually a sign of how the Saints have improved. They don't need to play on a fast track to run their offense optimally anymore, in the way that they might have relied on their domed stadium in years past. They can win ugly with a great offensive line and an oft-impressive defense. They're a better road team than they used to be.

Home-field advantage, on the whole, is extremely valuable. It was the best argument for the Eagles having a shot of making it to the Super Bowl with Foles last season. The Saints are a great team, and they would obviously much rather spend the next two weeks in New Orleans than traveling to play in Philadelphia or Los Angeles. I just don't think there's much recent evidence they get any extra advantage from playing at home.


Los Angeles Chargers

The myth: The Chargers will go as far as Philip Rivers can take them.

Sunday showed us that the Chargers can survive without a productive game from their star quarterback. With the Ravens getting virtually constant pressure on Rivers amid an excellent performance from their defense, he was just 22-of-32 passing for 160 yards in the 23-17 win over Baltimore. Rivers didn't necessarily play poorly, but he didn't throw a touchdown pass, and recent vintage Chargers teams haven't done well when that happens. The Chargers had not won a game without throwing a touchdown pass in more than seven years, going back to Week 3 of 2011. They had gone 0-12 in those games over that time frame.

What the Chargers have now is a great defense. On Sunday, with injuries costing them the services of linebackers Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman, they adapted brilliantly to the challenges of facing unique Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. While most defenses would respond to the run-heavy Ravens attack by adding bigger bodies to the front seven, Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley went in the opposite direction and went for speed:

The Chargers use their dime package quite a bit, but this is taking things to a new extreme. Their linebackers on most downs were Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips, safeties who are listed at 195 and 210 pounds, respectively. In 215-pound safety Derwin James, the Chargers had a destroyer capable of doing everything from spying Jackson to covering slot receivers adeptly from snap to snap. James made a key tackle on a Jackson scramble to keep the speedy quarterback short of the sticks, forcing a rare miss from Justin Tucker on the ensuing 50-yard field goal try.

Los Angeles also got a great game out of the pieces on their front four. The obvious star was Melvin Ingram, who racked up two sacks, forced a fumble, recovered another, and generally wreaked havoc all game. The Chargers benefited greatly from being the first team to get a second look at Jackson's offense, as they used several formation and footwork cues to infer what the Ravens were running. Baltimore never adjusted, and Jackson looked overwhelmed until launching a fourth-quarter comeback.

The other element the Chargers have added, quietly, is a kicking game. After years of stumbling at the position and cycling through options such as Younghoe Koo and Caleb Sturgis, the Chargers finally stumbled onto a solution in Michael Badgley. The Miami product unsurprisingly failed to make the Colts out of training camp and was cut after a two-week stint with the Chargers earlier this season. Then Sturgis got hurt, and Badgley took the job over in Week 10. He finished the year 15-of-16 on field goals and 27-of-28 on extra points, and he went 5-for-6 on field goals Sunday, with his miss getting blocked. When you consider that Chargers kickers were previously 3-for-7 on playoff field goals this decade, Badgley's performance has to be a breath of fresh air for a team that seemed like it might never solve its kicking woes.

The Patriots are not the Ravens, and Los Angeles can't expect to win the same way this weekend. They won't be able to spring a seven-defensive-back trap on the Patriots, who will have a week to devise ways to run directly at undersized linebackers with big bodies. It wouldn't be a surprise to see plenty of James Develin on Sunday, with Rob Gronkowski doing more as a blocker than as a receiver. Kicking field goals against the Patriots in Foxborough seems like a good way to have your heart broken.

Consider, though, that the Chargers won on Sunday in a game in which Rivers did little more than keep the passing game's head above water. What happens if he has a big game against a less impressive pass defense? The Chargers finally have enough to win when Rivers struggles. They might have enough to go very far in the postseason if Rivers plays like a superstar.

Oh, by the way: Remember that 9-yard scramble where Rivers seemed to move in tree time as he scrambled for a first down?

According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats (and shown in the animation above), Rivers hit a top speed of 16.1 miles per hour on the run. Think about that for a second. When you go to your local gym, how often do you see someone hop on the treadmill and punch in 16 miles per hour, even for a few seconds of interval training? Tom Brady's max speed as a ball carrier this season is 16.3 miles per hour. Eli Manning is at 16.6 mph. It's fun when we pretend that we're faster than the slowest of NFL quarterbacks, but the reality is that even the oldest veteran passer is faster than just about anybody reading this. They're definitely faster than anyone writing this.


New England Patriots

The myth: The Patriots have a bend-but-don't-break defense.

I have a whole list of Patriots myths I want to evaluate in a column one day, but one classic trope surrounding the Belichick-era Patriots is that they bend without breaking, giving up easy yards before shutting down opposing teams in the red zone. When you look at the yardage and point totals at the end of the season, the Patriots invariably rank way worse in yards than they do in points. The same thing is true this season, as the Patriots rank 21st in yards allowed per game and seventh in scoring defense.

It's a good story, but it isn't borne out by reality. I've looked at red zone performance several times in the past (most recently in 2016) and found that it tends to be remarkably inconsistent from year to year. History suggests that teams tend to play about as well in the red zone as they do in the other 80 yards of the field.

That's true for the Patriots too, and we can use ESPN's expected points metric to prove it. If the Patriots were a bend-but-don't-break defense, they would rank relatively low in expected points per snap on plays outside of the 20, but then improve dramatically in the same category once teams make it to the New England 20-yard line. Instead, here's where the Patriots rank on defense in each of those two categories going back through 2006, which is how far ESPN's expected points model stretches:

The Patriots have actually been slightly worse inside the red zone than we might have expected, given their work over the rest of the field. Last year might coincidentally have been one of the few times they could have been considered a bend-but-don't-break defense, but the trend hasn't stuck around this season. New England is allowing teams to score touchdowns on 58.7 percent of their red zone trips, which ranks 16th in the league.

When you think about it, the bend-but-don't-break idea doesn't make much sense. Why would a team want to just let a team move the ball into field goal range? If it were something the Patriots were doing, wouldn't Bill Belichick want them to stop teams earlier in possessions and get the ball back in Brady's hands? Belichick certainly preaches the value of stopping opposing teams in the red zone, but so does every other defensive coach in football.

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Clark: Bosa, Ingram need to put pressure on Brady

Ryan Clark says that the difference for the Chargers is going to be Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram's ability to close the pocket on Tom Brady.

In reality, the discrepancy between yards and points has more to do with the Patriots' offense than its defense. Brady & Co. have been moving the ball downfield and scoring consistently throughout the past 13 years (with the Matt Cassel year from 2008 as a notable exception), which has impacted the defense's numbers.

Since 2006, the Patriots' defense has inherited an average starting field position with 73.7 yards to go, meaning that opposing offenses have had to travel further for their touchdowns than any other team in the league. Because the offense holds onto the ball, it has faced an average of only 11.4 drives per game, the seventh fewest over the same time frame. The Patriots also have defended 2,728 plays over that time frame with a lead of 15 points or more, 832 more than any other team in football. With a big lead, teams can play prevent and allow teams to rack up yardage as long as they burn clock. When you say that the Patriots have a bend-but-don't-break defense, what you really mean is that they have a great offense.


Indianapolis Colts

The myth: The Colts aren't ready to compete at this level.

If the Colts had lost 35-0 to the Texans on Saturday, nobody would have had a critical word to say. Indy shouldn't be here. It is one year removed from a 4-12 season, and if you want to chalk that up to Andrew Luck being absent, it was a middling 8-8 team in a bad division over the previous two campaigns. The Colts were a laughingstock when Josh McDaniels dumped them last January and then again when Frank Reich went for it on fourth down in overtime and passed up a likely tie against the Texans in Week 4. On Oct. 14, the Colts lost to the Jets and fell to 1-5.

From that point forward, all of the following things are true:

  • The Colts are 10-1, including a 21-7 victory over the Texans in the wild-card game.

  • Luck has posted the league's best QBR (80.6).

  • The Colts are third in points per drive (2.6) and in series success rate (76.9 percent).

  • The Indy defense is second in points allowed per drive (1.5) and third in touchdown drive percentage (17.1 percent).

  • Indianapolis is the only team to rank in the top five in both offensive (fourth) and defensive (third) win expectancy.

  • The Colts have the best point margin (plus-131 points) and average point margin (plus-11.9 points per game) in the league.

The latter stat suggests that the Colts have a reasonable claim to be considered the best team in football since Week 7. I won't pretend that their schedule has been the toughest, but they did shut out a Cowboys team that has otherwise gone 8-0 over its past nine games and stomped the Titans by 44 points across two different victories. They've beaten the Texans in Houston twice in the past month, a place where J.J. Watt & Co. were otherwise 6-1 in 2018.

The Colts have weaknesses, but there are elements of this team that are absolutely for real. Luck is playing at a high level, picking teams apart again and again on third down. Indy drove its first-half success on Saturday by going 6-for-6 in the first half on third downs. The offensive line is absolutely for real, especially with Pro Bowl-caliber center Ryan Kelly back in the fold for the playoff win. Including Saturday's game, the Colts are averaging 4.6 yards per carry and turning 25.6 percent of their runs into first downs or touchdowns with Kelly on the field. Those numbers fall to 3.6 yards and 19.8 percent, respectively, with Kelly sidelined.

Can the Colts beat the Chiefs? They'll need to catch a break, but it's not out of the question. They have the running game to take advantage of the league's weakest run defense by DVOA, and their offensive line should be able to hold up against a devastating Chiefs pass rush. On paper, Indy doesn't have anyone capable of covering Tyreek Hill, but the only 100-yard games they've allowed since Week 7 are to Sterling Shepard and Keke Coutee. The Colts have been an upper-echelon team for two-and-a-half months now. They deserve to be taken seriously.


Kansas City Chiefs

The myth: The Kansas City defense is trash.

You have to be more constructive with your feedback! The Chiefs' rush defense is an abject disaster. Kansas City is last in the league in rush defense DVOA, 31st in yards per carry allowed, last in average yards after first contact, and last in first down percentage. The return of Eric Berry should theoretically improve this, but the star safety played only a game and a half before struggling with heel pain, which caused Berry to sit out the Week 17 win over the Raiders. Berry's only full game came against the Seahawks in Week 16, when Seattle ran the ball 43 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

As a pass defense, though, the Chiefs are better than you think. The raw stats aren't pretty -- they have allowed 4,374 passing yards, second in the league behind the Bengals -- but Kansas City ranks 12th in the league in pass defense DVOA, ahead of more-heralded defenses like the Cowboys, who rank 16th.

Their raw numbers look bad because Kansas City has been way ahead of its opponents for a huge chunk of 2018. Opposing quarterbacks facing the Chiefs have thrown 230 passes on drives that began with their teams possessing no more than a 5 percent chance of winning. No other team in the league faced 200 such attempts this season. This is essentially garbage time, and in meaningless situations, the Chiefs really shouldn't care about what their pass defense is doing. They have racked up eight interceptions in those spots, which inflates their total some, but their goal in those moments is really just to burn clock.

What has really driven the Chiefs to competency against the pass is a ferocious pass rush. To put their production in context, consider that the Bears sacked opposing quarterbacks 7.3 percent of the time and pressured those same passers on 30.0 percent of their dropbacks during the regular season. Bob Sutton's defense took down opposing signal-callers on 7.4 percent of their pass plays and pressured them 31.1 percent of the time. Kansas City also has done this with the league's ninth-lowest blitz rate, so it is getting home without sending extra rushers.

The pass rush could end up deciding this weekend's game against the Colts, given that Andrew Luck has been taking home a clean uniform a good amount of the time during their hot stretch. The Colts haven't allowed a rusher to rack up more than one sack in a game against them since Week 4, but the Chiefs have a special duo in Dee Ford and Chris Jones. Pro Football Reference has quarterback knockdown data going back through 2006, and the only team over that time frame with two players who each have 12.5 sacks and 25 knockdowns is this year's Chiefs.


Dallas Cowboys

The myth: The Cowboys have a great defense.

Even after Saturday's 24-22 win over the Seahawks, I find it difficult to make a case that the Cowboys have one of the league's best defenses. The win over Seattle was driven by a brutally anachronistic game plan from a Seahawks team that seemed to talk itself into believing its own press clippings. Facing one of the league's best run defenses, the Seahawks ran the ball 24 times for 73 yards. Outside of one Rashaad Penny run, Seattle's 23 other carries went for just 45 yards and four first downs.

When the Seahawks chose to pass, though, Russell Wilson lit up the Dallas secondary. Wilson went 18-of-27 for 233 yards with a touchdown pass and a passer rating of 105.9, dropping dimes over Chidobe Awuzie to both Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin. Facing a Seahawks line that is still far better in run blocking than pass protection, the Cowboys sacked Wilson only once and knocked him down three times across 28 dropbacks. He finished a low-scoring wild-card weekend as the only quarterback with a passer rating above 90.

Wilson was able to create opportunities in the passing game by attacking the biggest weakness in Dallas' defense. Despite possessing a pair of rangy linebackers in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys struggle mightily against play-action. During the season, the Cowboys posted a passer rating of 112.6 against play-action passes, the sixth-worst rate in the league. In the wild-card game, with his running game doing absolutely nothing, Wilson went 9-of-10 on play-action for 109 yards and a passer rating of 117.1.

If there's an offense you wouldn't want to face when you struggle with play-action, it is the very opponent the Cowboys will go up against Saturday night. The Rams went with a play-fake on more than 35 percent of their dropbacks this season, the highest rate in football by a considerable margin. Sean McVay's team ranked sixth in yards per attempt (9.9) and seventh in passer rating (114.5) when it ran play-fakes, and while its numbers definitely declined after Cooper Kupp went out, even the post-Kupp Rams should give the Cowboys problems with play-action.

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Riddick: Cowboys are a 'tough matchup' for Rams

Louis Riddick says the Cowboys' defense has the potential to cause problems for the Rams' offense in the divisional round.

As much as the story has been that the Cowboys are surging, much of that improvement has come on offense. Dallas ranked sixth in scoring defense, but it was ninth in DVOA and 11th in weighted DVOA, which emphasizes performance toward the end of the season. The Cowboys allowed 35 points to a Giants team without Odell Beckham Jr. or anything to play for in Week 17. They recovered five of the six fumbles they forced on defense over the past month of the season. Defenses typically recover about 44 percent of fumbles.

The Cowboys certainly have a good defense. It's the best unit they've run out on that side of the ball since 2009, when DeMarcus Ware and Wade Phillips were in town. (The 2016 team had a great scoring average but didn't face many drives and subsequently didn't fare as well by advanced metrics.) The Cowboys faced a Seattle offense that was determined to win like it was 1978, which played into Dallas' strengths. This week, with a state-of-the-art offense looming, it might not be so lucky.


Los Angeles Rams

The myth: The Rams are automatic near the goal line.

If you had Todd Gurley on your fantasy team, congratulations. You probably did well for yourself, especially if you also grabbed C.J. Anderson for Weeks 16 and 17. Gurley was a touchdown machine, scoring at least once in 12 of his 14 games this season, with the 54-51 shootout against the Chiefs as a truly bizarre exception. Gurley and Alvin Kamara became the first players to produce three three-touchdown games in a season since DeAngelo Williams in 2008.

Gurley scored a league-high 11 touchdowns inside the 5-yard line, and when you have a back who seems automatic inside the 5, you're naturally going to assume that his team is one of the best red zone offenses in the league. Anderson even added two scores from inside the 5 during his two-game stint with the Rams, which is as many as Ezekiel Elliott had all season in 11 tries for the Cowboys.

For whatever reason, though, the Rams have not been a very good red zone offense this season. As dominant as Gurley was, they ranked 15th in points per red zone trip. To put that in context, the Falcons were 14th, and they just fired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, in part because of frustration with their performance in the red zone. Last year, McVay's offense was 11th in the same category; good, but certainly not the sort of otherworldly performance you might expect from an offensive juggernaut like the Rams.

How do you sustain a great offense without great red zone work? You get inside the opposing 20 a lot. The Rams have taken 43.7 percent of their possessions to the red zone this season, the highest rate in the league. They were at 36.7 percent last season, which was second behind the Patriots. What they lack in efficiency, they make up in volume. Los Angeles this season scored the second-most points in the red zone behind the Chiefs, who racked up 408 points (assuming a single extra point for a touchdown). The Rams were at 397 points, the Saints were at 381, the Colts were a step behind at 347, and then no other team in the NFL topped 300 red zone points. This is a very limited group.

The Cowboys represent an interesting matchup. They were only 24th in the NFL in keeping opposing teams out of their red zone, but once inside, they held opponents to 4.6 points per red zone trip, which was a more impressive 13th. Can the Rams beat the surging Cowboys with field goals and big plays? Will Gurley be back to his old tricks? We won't know until we see the star back with the ball in his hands Saturday night.