Dallas had its two biggest strengths turned against it during the divisional round, with the Rams neutralizing the Cowboys rushing attack while . As it turns out, the Cowboys defensive approach may have been responsible for some of the latter, with the Cowboys apparently giving away a large number of their defensive plays through tells before the play.
In an excellent on-site recap from Danny Heifetz of The Ringer, several Rams players claimed they knew exactly what was coming from Dallas, up to "90 percent" of them in fact.
Center John Sullivan says the team saw "tips and tells" to figure out what Dallas was going to do.
"They have good players, but we just felt scheme-wise we were able to—we had a lot of tips and tells on what they were going to do in front of us," Sullivan said.
And right guard Austin Blythe just came out and said it was obvious what would happen on each play with Dallas' defense.
"They're a defensive line that really likes to move a lot," Blythe told Heifetz. "We had a pretty good tell when they were going to do that."
"Usually they like to play a 3-technique but if he got a little wider, and looked like he was going to play the [left or right] tackle, he was going to slant out and we were going to get another movement from the other side too," Blythe said. "If [the defensive tackle] is going to come in, the tell is going to come in from the other side."
Blythe is the one who said "90 percent" of what the Cowboys did was obvious. The results speak for themselves. Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson were running through freeway lane-sized holes.
The Cowboys utilized a lot of stunts this season to generate pressure without blitzing -- Heifetz writes that "depending on the alignment of the Cowboys defensive tackles, particularly whether Maliek Collins was shaded closer to the tackle instead of the guard, the Rams figured a stunt may be coming."
The Rams also knew -- based on "if a certain Cowboys lineman had a specific hand on the ground—right or left—or if a player was tilted one way or the other" what the Cowboys defensive line planned on doing.
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We're talking some next-level chess here by Sean McVay and the Rams offense. But it doesn't stop there. As Ted Nguyen noted on The Athletic (really good read), McVay took all of the Rams' tendencies from the regular season and threw them out the window against the Cowboys.
McVay had the Rams run out of shotgun, something they did less than five percent of the time during the regular season. They were the lowest shotgun-running team in the NFL per Sharp Football Stats. When the Rams went to shotgun early on against Dallas, the result was tricking the Cowboys into believing a pass was coming, which sent Leighton Vander Esch dropping into coverage. If you get the Wolf Hunter dropping into coverage on a run play, life is going to be much easier on everyone involved.
It really feels like the Cowboys basically believed what they did against the Seahawks and what they'd done the second half of the season was going to hold up perfectly fine against the Rams. And in theory, the Rams needing to run would be a problem for Los Angeles. But ultimately McVay -- like Bill Belichick against the Chargers -- was able to outsmart an opponent traveling on shorter rest with less time to prepare by using tendencies and a game plan from the week before against them.
The Cowboys were essentially tipping their pitches all game and it let the Rams run all over them.