The betting line for the London NFL matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals was favoring the Rams by 3.5 points. Many, including myself, were expecting a shootout between QB Jared Goff and QB Carson Palmer. Some were looking forward to the second game in the the rebirth of RB Adrian Peterson. Those narratives quickly fell apart once the game got going and a new storyline emerged: the Rams’ defense is not messing around anymore.
Let’s take a closer look at the expected aspects of the Rams-Cardinals game:
Expected: The Rams defense remained stout against the run
There’s significant improvement with the Rams defense that happened after the first half of the game against the Dallas Cowboys. Ever since then, they have only gotten way better at stopping the run, holding Adrian Peterson to 21 yards on 11 carries.
Expected: Todd Gurley was the beating heart of the offense
What’s becoming very clear with the Rams’ offense is Coach Sean McVay’s preference to make the offense flow through the run game with solid blocking from the tight ends. Jared Goff had his moments for sure, but Gurley’s 18 TD run essentially ended the criticism that the Rams are struggling in the red zone. And yes, they kicked 4 field goals that could have been touchdowns. But let’s give Todd Gurley his credit, the man surprassed 100 yards yet again and made another claim that he’s a superstar in this league.
Expected: Robert Woods plays like the #1 receiver
His numbers don’t jump out at you and frankly, they never have since he entered the NFL, but WR Robert Woods turned in another dependable performance, leading the team in receiving yards with 59 years off 5 receptions. As much as the fans worry about Sammy Watkins getting his touches, Woods quietly makes his way to Jared Goff and the coaches every time the Rams get to the sidelines when the defense is on the field — he’s fully in tune with this offense. Is Robert Woods putting up All-Pro numbers? Nope. But is he doing what he needs to do to keep to keep this offense running efficiently? Yes. Yes he his.
Okay, great. So, the Rams mopped the field with the Cardinals. Not too shocking. Or was it? Let’s look at what went down that was unexpected:
Unexpected: The Rams secondary shut down the passing attack
The biggest surprise from Sunday’s game in London has to be how dominant the Rams’ defense was, providing a goose egg for the first time since 2014. Rams fans have been critical of LB Alec Olgletree’s play at the beginning of the season, but it would be hard to be too upset at Olgletree’s performance, unless you’re a fan of QB Carson Palmer. Again, this was supposed to be a close game and the Rams D, strengthen by the return of S Larmarcus Joyner (who had an interception), blew away that expectation.
Unexpected: The offensive line keeps on blocking
Since we worried so much about the O-line in the off-season, it’s still difficult for me to accept the idea that they are going to be the strongest unit week in and week out. The fact that OL Jamon Brown isn’t a penalty machine is a big key in the Rams being able to provide enough time for Jared Goff to get the ball out (only 1 sack for the game). A lot of credit also should go to offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
Unexpected: The Rams had ball almost twice as much as the Cardinals
Just as the Rams kept the Cardinals from getting first downs, they also moved the ball down the field all game. Their time of possession was 39 minutes (to the Cards 20:59), which is absolutely dominating. After Arizona’s performance last week, I thought this game was going to play out a LOT differently.