The Los Angeles Rams are on the road this weekend to face the 5-6 NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals. The Rams already beat the Cardinals 33-0 in London, England, in Week 7 in what could rightfully be called the most dominating performance the team has had in 15 years.
Because the Cardinals are so bad, it’s easy to say that all the Rams have to do is “just show up.” That’s true to certain extent, but here’s where this game presents Rams Head Coach Sean McVay with a new wrinkle which he hasn’t faced before.
It’s his first NFC West boomerang game.
Facing an opponent for the second time
A hallmark of NFL coaching is the ability to adjust to different circumstances presented in game as opposed to what you anticpate in preparation and practice.
Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians has been around the block before. He now has had a chance to study and review what went wrong the first time against the Rams. Invariably he will have a new game plan for both the Cardinals offense and defense. The Cards aren’t going to get shut out this time around.
On the other side, the Rams must be aware that it’s tough to beat an opponent once let alone twice in one season especially against a division rival. Arizona is going to make adjustments based on what they learned the first time making it difficult for the team to prepare as they’re not going to be able do the same thing over again. Even if the Cardinals make adjustments given their current crop of personnel, they just don’t have enough on offense and defense to beat the Rams.
So while the “just show up” theory might be the prevailing consensus, it will be up to McVay and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips to make the in-game adjustments.
The gameplan from the last time when these two teams last met isn’t worth the paper its printed on.
This will be a first for McVay. It will be interesting to see how he how handles not only the preparation but the in-game adjustments the Cardinals will throw at the Rams designed to stop the offense.
When the Rams have the ball
Given the circumstances the gameplan should call for running the ball with RB Todd Gurley on the first series even if the Rams are faced with 3rd and long. The reason I like this is to give McVay the opportunity to see how the Cardinals have adjusted their alignment on the fly for certain passing downs.
If the Rams running the ball on the first series is successful, there’s no reason to get away from it. McVay can still give them the look of a pass and run instead. Once comfortable with what he’s seeing, McVay can then dial up his plays using his arsenal of weapons of pass receivers.
The Rams have too much talent on offense and should be fine once they settle in.
When the Cardinals have the ball
The Cardinals are without starting RB David Johnson or QB Carson Palmer, and Arizona is just not the same team without them.
The Cards have struggled mightily even with the acquisition from New Orleans of RB Adrian Peterson in the run game after his first appearance was record breaking for him. Nor are the Cardinals much in the passing game with either back up QB Drew Stanton or expected starting QB Blaine Gabbert.
The reason for this is simple—the Cardinals’ offensive line is bad. A running back can’t run if he has no holes to run to, nor can a quarterback throw if he has no time to pass.
The Rams will need to stop the run as they did against the New Orleans Saints and pressure Arizona’s quarterback as they did the first time the two teams played forcing errant passes. Do that and given the Rams’ quality in the defensive personnel department, the defense should be fine as long as they shut down WR Larry Fitzgerald, a Rams killer—don’t let him get hot.
The Rams should be fine here.
Make all the field goals attempted.
Get great runbacks on punts and good field position, then the Rams offense will be ready to rumble.
Good punting will force the Cardinals to earn every score they make.
As always don’t turn the ball over and keep in mind this is an away game, so stay away from the dumb penalties.
The Rams will come out on top if they play their game. It won’t be like the first teams met, but they’re just too good to lose to a lousy Cardinals team.