The Rams are 4-2 coming off a victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With newly-acquired RB Adrian Peterson leading the way, the Cardinals were impressive in their 38-33 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The momentum for one must end.
Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians had a deep personal dislike for former Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Whether he continues his feud this week with Fisher’s replacement, Sean McVay, is yet to be seen.
The Cardinals need this win in order to remain contenders for the NFC West crown as much as the Rams do to gain separation. If the Rams lose, they will be tied with Arizona, but will own a poor 1-2 division record and still have to go on the road to play both Arizona and Seattle again, two tough venues to pull out wins.
Since the new alignment of the division, the Rams and Cardinals have been splitting lopsided wins against each other. However when both teams are really good, one of these two teams usually winds up sweeping the series.
The battle in the trenches and turnovers will decide who the winner of this game.
When The Rams Have The Ball
Since former Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles left to take the head coaching job with the New York Jets, the Cardinals’ defense has never been the same. That unit is not scary even with CB Patrick Peterson.
In order for the Rams to have success on offense, they must be able to run the football against the Cardinals’ 9th-ranked rushing defense to open up the Rams passing attack and give them chances to exploit the Cardinals’ 26th-ranked pass defense. This doesn’t mean the Rams should be as run heavy as they were last week against the Jags. Rather, the Rams need just enough from RB Todd Gurley and their offensive line to keep the Cardinals’ defense guessing.
The Rams are going to take some shots down the field in this game, no matter what.
The Rams’ primary target corps of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee are therefore going to be called upon to make plays, This group must make those plays when called upon, and QB Jared Goff needs to make pinpoint accurate passes. The receivers need to catch and control the ball through the catch, hold onto the football after making a football move and score lots of points.
Controlling the clock is not as important in this game as scoring lots of points because in order to beat the Cards, the Rams are probably going to need around 33 to 38 points to seal the victory.
The Rams need to force the Cardinals to match every score the Rams put up by forcing them to drive the length of the field and making critical third downs. The Rams’ offense cannot turn the ball over to the Cards.
Keep the Cards from getting more than their fair share of opportunities to win the game with their own efforts (which they will screw up), rather than the Rams gifting it to them.
When The Cardinals Have The Ball
The Cardinals QB is Carson Palmer, an aging QB who is strictly a pocket passer. The Rams’ defensive front have had a considerable amount of success in putting pressure on Palmer without the necessity of a blitz. Palmer has had some nightmare games against the Rams defensive front, so look for DT Aaron Donald, DT Michael Brockers and OLB Robert Quinn to have another big game against the Cards.
In the pocket and when he’s under pressure from the Rams, Palmer has tended to make bad throws. Not bad reads. Bad throws. On the other hand in games past when Palmer is able to gain time, he has found a way to get the ball to WR Larry Fitzgerald: a Rams killer.
Fitzgerald’s best games are against the Rams even though he’s underutilized in Arians’ offense. Fitzgerald is a one-of-a-kind player and a for sure Hall of Famer. Larry has caused the Rams’ secondary fits even when he’s covered. He always seems to come up with that critical and remarkable catch when needed against the Rams. He’s Arizona’s go-to guy against the Rams capable of burning the defense anywhere on the field.
Larry’s only problem is something he can’t change...age. Both he and Palmer are at the end of their careers, not the beginning. Under former DC Gregg Williams, the Rams played a lot of soft zone against the Cards which allowed Fitzgerald freedom to roam in the secondary. New DC Wade Phillips relies heavily on man-to-man coverage so it will be up to the Rams’ secondary to be on Fitzgerald like glue and play aggressively.
Prior to last week, the Cards’ offense has been lackluster at best, regressing as a result of losing RB David Johnson to injury. Johnson was a threat on the ground, as well as in the passing game. Struggling without him, the Cards made a huge deal in acquiring superstar RB Adrian Peterson for peanuts from the New Orleans Saints. The deal paid instant dividends last week as Peterson racked up 134 yards on 26 carries for an average of 5.2 per carry on the ground and 2 TDs.
In order for the Cards to have success, Peterson must duplicate his performance against the Rams defense.
Here’s where the Rams 29th-ranked defense against the rush is deceiving. The Rams defense has played against elite running backs: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette.
NFL defenses aren’t going to be able to just stop these players, but they do need to contain them.
Against each of these running backs, the Rams have come away with wins, even when they have momentary lapses as they did when Fournette ran for 76 yards on the Jags first play from scrimmage for a TD. Also, the Rams have given up most of the rushing yardage in the first half and then made adjustments to improve their performances thereafter. In the second halves of games, the Rams’ defense has more often brought the ground game to a halt.
If the Rams defense can hold down the fort against the Cards in the first half building upon their lead going into the 3rd quarter, this will be a formula for victory. By controlling the line scrimmage on both sides of the ball, offense and defense, and scoring often, the Rams will definitely come out on top.
In this one area of the game, the Rams have a decided edge. The Cards have had a terrible time finding a reliable FG kicker while the Rams have Mr. Automatic, Greg Zuerlein.
The Rams have All-Pro P Johnny Hekker who week in, week out, proves why he’s the best in the game.
The Rams’ special teams are the most consistently good part of their game; however, between these two rivals special teams have rarely been the deciding factor.
The Cardinals know if they hope to make the playoffs, they have to win this game. The Cardinals take this game so seriously they decided to fly to practice in London while the Rams remained in Jacksonville to prepare for the game. It will be interesting to see which mode of preparing for the game works better. Hopefully Arizona gets so caught up sightseeing they forget they have a game to play on Sunday.
A nice or even an ugly win against the Cardinals will be huge boost for the Rams’ playoff chances. After blowing the same opportunity against Seattle two weeks ago, expect this team to rise to the occasion this weekend.