This weekend's game against the Dallas Cowboys presents another big road test for the up and coming St Louis Rams. The Cowboys look like an improved team compared to previous Jason Garrett teams, but are still a fragile unit that is vulnerable at home. No team in the Garrett era has finished better than 5-3 at home, nor 8-8 overall, one of the many factors that makes his seat on the sidelines warm.
Jeff Fisher's ideal football teams — built on physical, punishing fronts on both offense and defense — have shown an equal ability to dominate at home or on the road. His playoff teams each went 5-3 or better on the road, equaling their home records. The Rams' road record in 2012, by comparison, was a lowly 2-5-1. And last week, though competitive at the end, the Rams let the Falcons dictate the game's opening half on their home turf.
Fisher must find a way to develop the required mental toughness in his team to become true road warriors, and he must do so while being forced out of his offensive comfort zone (smashmouth football) by the emergence of Sam Bradford and his receiving weapons.
On paper, the Cowboys still present a formidable challenge. The Rams have ascended from league patsies to "Any Given Sunday" levels of competitiveness, but must find a way to win some key individual matchups. With our soft coverage schemes, the Cowboys receiving trio of Dez Bryant (nearly unstoppable last week vs the Chiefs' very good secondary), Miles Austin and Jason Witten (both past their prime but effective) stand to have big days.
Moreover, Tampa Two guru Monte Kiffin walks the Dallas sideline, dialing up the original and best version of the defense that the Rams themselves want to run. Unlike the Rams, Kiffin, asks his young corners to press and jam at the line of scrimmage.
To win this game, Bradford may have to win in a shootout, and may have to thread several needles to do so. Look for Bradford's streak of 193 dropbacks without a sack to be stressed, as he is forced to stand in the pocket and wait for his receivers to come open. Or, look for a very heavy workload for Tavon Austin, one of the only Rams receivers who can create space from the first step.