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Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: Report Card shows red dead redemption

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The Rams get well in Arizona with strong performances across the board

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback

B plus grade

Coming off two straight subpar performances, Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff put together a very solid effort today, going 19-of-24 for 216, a TD and a rushing TD. Though he did have an early fumble on a strip sack (causing many Rams fans to no doubt say “here we go again”), he steadied himself and was efficient behind a strong running game and nice solid protection. It wasn’t a lights-out, dazzling passing display, but it was a meat-and-potatoes back to basics outing and should go a long way towards rebuilding the QB’s wavering confidence.

Running Backs

A minus grade

Welcome to LA, C.J.! Despite being partially to blame for Goff’s early fumble, newly acquired RB C.J. Anderson was simply outstanding running the football on the afternoon, with 20 carries for 167 yards. Hs was a little shaky in pass protection, but he’s been with the team a week, so he’ll get that sorted out. He looked strong and explosive, particularly in short yardage, and is certainly a worthy replacement for RB Malcolm Brown. RB John Kelly also chipped in with 10 carries for 40 yards, adding a 9-yard reception. With Todd Gurley resting an aching knee, this was just what the Doctor ordered.

Wide Receivers

B plus grade

Robert Woods was once again outstanding with 6/89 and a TD. He also contributed 2 carries for 15 yards and a TD. WR Brandin Cooks also got involved in the run game, with 3 totes for 27, though was relatively quiet in the passing game. WR Josh Reynolds had 2 grabs for 44 yards, and, perhaps more importantly, was targeted just twice (against 12 last week), which is indicative of the strong running game and more involvement from TE Gerald Everett.

Tight Ends

B grade

Speaking of Young Gerald, he finished the day with 5 catches for 28 yards, with another 16 on the ground. His maturation is finally starting to show up in the box score, and it’s nice to see the Rams deploy their 2017 2nd round pick more effectively. TE Tyler Higbee had an up and down afternoon, allowing a big loss on a missed run block, but assisting on Woods’ TD. Since WR Cooper Kupp went down, this unit has been more and more involved, occasionally with mixed results. This was one of their better afternoons.

Offensive Line

A grade

269 yards rushing with a 6.6 YPC average is good, right? Yes, Rams QB Jared Goff is on the hook for his performance the last two weeks, but the play of the O-Line sure hasn’t helped him much. Conversely, today, the line gave him ample time, opened hole after hole for CJ Anderson, and had their best day in a month. Yes, C John Sullivan still got pushed around a little bit, but on the whole these guys played like they’re capable of, and the scoreboard reflects it.

Defensive Line

A grade

Can Rams DT Aaron Donald beat Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record next week? Heading into today’s game, it appeared out of reach, but AD absolutely annihilated the Cardinals O-line en route to another three sacks. If I was San Francisco 49ers QB Nick Mullens, I might bring a second pair of underwear to Levi’s next week. Otherwise, NT Ndamukong Suh had a solid day as well, with a sack and two passes defended. While the Rams still surrendered 5.8 yards per rush, the run D appeared to be more stout today, and the D-Line deserves a lot of the credit.

Linebackers

B grade

Generally, when the Rams LBs are more or less invisible, they’ve had a good day. ILBs Cory Littleton and Mark Barron led the charge, with 12 combined tackles and 2 passes defended. Barron does appear to have some of his hammer back, and though Littleton continues to show hesitancy and take the occasional bad angle, he’s always active and flying around. Off the EDGE, OLB Samson Ebukam didn’t even appear on the stat sheet, and while OLB Dante Fowler blew up a few plays and almost had a strip sack, he was also largely quiet. Alas, we’ll take quiet in a win versus loud in a loss, any day of the week.

Defensive Backs

A minus grade

As is the case with all of these grades today, you do have to consider who we’re playing, as Arizona Cardinals QB Josh Rosen isn’t exactly Dan Marino. That said, the LA secondary was solid today, allowing just 182 yards passing (32 from WR Larry Fitzgerald). CB Aqib Talib looks to be getting back to 100%, as he was involved in a few pass breakups, and helped allow CB Marcus Peters to freelance (and miss tackles, of course). S LaMarcus Joyner also had one of his better days, though his whiff on a sack attempt was slightly cringe-worthy.

Special Teams

B plus grade

PR/KR JoJo Natson had a solid return called back, but was sure-handed and made good decisions on the day. Former Rams WR Pharoh Cooper, on the other hand, did not make us look bad for cutting him, so one of my worst fears was not realized. Otherwise, P Johnny Hekker did his thing, Greg Zuerlein bricked a bomb, but in the end a sound day for Bones’ guys.

Coaching

A grade

You’ve lost two in a row. Your QB and your offensive line is struggling, and your star RB is on the sideline. So what do you do? Run the football, shorten the game, lower your margin of error. Tighten up your formations to protect your quarterback. Call high percentage throws. Maintain your gap integrity against the run, and blitz occasionally to offset the more sound, if conservative approach. Or, quite simply: play more conventional, straightforward football, and ground your team in the fundamentals you worked on all week. Nice bounce back from Sean McVay and Co. here to reset this team, take care of business, and position themselves for the #2 seed.

Also: McVay calling a read-option on the goal line could have been disastrous, but Goff found his way into the end zone. It’s like a kid’s Dad who catches him smoking, and sits there and smokes three packs with him until they all puke. “You wanna fumble, son? Here, go right ahead.” It was a ballsy call that could easily have backfired, but also a way to potentially get his QB over his turnover troubles. A small play, but may go down as one of my favorite on the season if the implied lesson is learned.