The Los Angeles Rams are going back to the playoffs. Not only will their offense look quite a bit different when they face the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round next weekend, but the Rams will have to hope that their execution in the red zone looks a lot different.
Despite venmoing the Cardinals seven free points to start the game and failing to score an offensive touchdown, LA’s defense clamped down on Arizona and the Rams happily accepted an 18-7 win to earn a wild card berth.
Los Angeles found themselves in a situation where they had to start an untested quarterback with the playoffs on the line, but then were soon facing a team in the exact same situation. The Rams’ exceptional defense held Cardinals backup quarterback Chris Streveler to 77 yards on nine-of-13 passing with one touchdown on a short field and one interception. Starter Kyler Murray was pulled from the game early, then returned in the fourth quarter but finished eight-of-11 for 87 yards.
The Rams sacked both quarterbacks twice each, including twice by Samson Ebukam, but as always with a heavy assist to Aaron Donald.
Making his regular season debut, LA quarterback John Wolford shook off the fact that he threw an interception before he even threw an incompletion, and finished 22-of-33 for 231 yards. Wolford showed off intriguing short area speed and helped the Rams move the ball downfield and pick up first downs based on what he could do with his legs, finishing with 56 rushing yards on six carries.
The question for McVay now turns to who he will want to start at quarterback against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round, should Jared Goff be cleared to play after breaking his thumb against the Seahawks last week.
Not as rosy of a return was the appearance of Cam Akers. The rookie running back missed Week 16’s game against Seattle with an ankle injury, then came back this week with Darrell Henderson going on injured reserve. Akers finished with 34 yards on 21 carries and he lost a fumble at Arizona’s one-yard line, costing the Rams a touchdown or field goal opportunity.
That was not the first time that the Rams made mistakes at Arizona’s one-yard line on Sunday. LA had first-and-Goal in the first quarter, but after Wolford was stopped for no gain, successive penalties by Van Jefferson and Austin Corbett set the offense back to the 11. The Rams settled for a field goal then.
In the third quarter, the Rams had first-and-10 at the Cardinals’ 13, but settled for a field goal after a penalty on Corbett and an Arizona sack of Wolford. LA had first-and-Goal at the Cardinals’ 10 in the fourth quarter, but again settled for a field goal.
These are mistakes that the Rams can’t make against the Seahawks in the playoffs. The players who could be asked to execute the plays might also look a lot different next week.
In addition to the question of Goff-or-Wolford, the Rams could be getting back Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Cooper Kupp at wide receiver by the wild card game. On defense, they could be getting back defensive end Michael Brockers and linebacker Micah Kiser. LA was short-handed against the Cardinals but came away with the victory they needed.
When they are closer to full strength next week, can they do it again?