LOS ANGELES — General managers across the NFL are searching for the next Sean McVay as if he has invented some sort of high-tech offense with futuristic schemes that are of ahead of its time.
Matt LaFleur is the new head coach at Green Bay, and Zac Taylor will be the new head coach in Cincinnati, largely because they have been McVay’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Kliff Kingsbury landed in Arizona and Freddie Kitchens was promoted to head coach in Cleveland, largely because they are perceived to share the same offensive creativity as McVay.
But there was nothing innovative about the way the Rams defeated the Cowboys, 30-22, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night to advance to the NFC Championship game. It was more of an old-fashioned butt-whipping led by a bulldozing running attack headed by Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.
Yes, McVay had his receivers doing cross patterns in the backfield before some of the handoffs, but the action up front was purely physical as the Rams’ offensive line battered the Cowboys’ front when it counted most. The Rams scored 20 consecutive points to turn an early 7-3 deficit into a 23-7 lead they never surrendered.
The Rams did that with a running game that was relentless. Gurley, who missed the final two games of the regular season resting an injury to his left knee, gained 115 yards on 16 carries, and Anderson was the bigger star, rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries. Gurley scored one touchdown and Anderson scored twice as the Rams rushed for 273 yards, the most in franchise playoff history.
“You want to be able to be a balanced offense and we’ve had success running it and throwing it,” McVay said. “It was a big challenge, but I thought the offensive line had a great game plan and ultimately the players executed. It was special.”
It was not finesse football. The Rams, who are in the NFC Championship for the first time since 2001, weren’t trying to outsmart the Cowboys. Instead, they went right after Dallas with long-sustained drives that tested the visitors will.
The Cowboys had allowed just two teams in their past nine games to run for more than 100 yards, and limited the league’s best rushing offense to just 73 yards in last week’s wild-card victory over the Seahawks. But the Rams had 170 yards rushing at halftime against the Cowboys, threatening to blow open the game after taking a 23-7 lead early in the third quarter.
The Rams didn’t do all their damage on the ground, as quarterback Jared Goff kept the Cowboys guessing with timely pass completions. He found Brandin Cooks for 20 yards and Robert Woods for 16 before a 10-yard touchdown run by Anderson gave the Rams their first lead. And Goff hit Cooks again for 15 yards before a 35-yard touchdown run by Gurley.
Goff would finish 15-of-28 for 186 yards.
But when it counted most, the Rams used brute force to get the job done. After the Cowboys had cut their deficit to 23-15, the Rams went for it on fourth-and-goal from the Cowboys 1 with 7:20 play. The ball went to Anderson, who bulled through for the score and a 30-15 advantage.
The Cowboys, who rushed for just 50 yards, came back to whittle the Rams lead to 30-22, but when the home team needed to burn the clock they turned to the simplest of plays: a scramble for a first down by Goff and runs of 5 and 6 yards by Anderson to earn another first down and clinch the victory.
“C.J.’s done a great job since he’s gotten here,” McVay said. “He and [Gurley] are a nice compliment to each other. It was good to get Todd back and let him get his wind underneath him.”
The Rams have been fascinating with their high-octane offense introduced under McVay last season. It helped them win their division and now reach the NFC Championship against either the Saints or the Eagles. But this is the playoffs where the Rams showed power football still wins.