Each week this season I have posted a comprehensive preview of the LA Rams’ next opponent, but this week they are facing a team that has already been on the schedule once this year: the Arizona Cardinals. I posted an Everything You Need to Know about Arizona in Week 4 and in actuality, not much has changed.
How are Cardinals different from Week 4?
DL J.J. Watt - Injured reserve
DL Rashard Lawrence - Injured reserve
IN: DT Jordan Phillips
Traded for: TE Zach Ertz
The biggest differences for Arizona between then and now are along the defensive line, where veteran J.J. Watt and 2020 fourth round pick Rashard Lawrence are both now on IR. One replacement there is Jordan Phillips, a relatively high-priced free agent addition in 2020.
But other than Kyler Murray missing three games, Arizona’s managed to get to 10-2 in large thanks due to their health this season. Of course, they are also very talented and the Cardinals rank fourth in points and yards allowed, third in points per drive allowed, and they complement the defense with the number three scoring offense.
2021 offensive ranks
Pass attempts: 26th
Rushing attempts: 4th
Net yards per pass attempt: 2nd
Passing touchdowns: 11th
Rushing yards: 8th
Yards per carry: 25th
Rushing touchdowns: 1st
Points per drive: 2nd
Third Down Conversions: 6th
Red Zone Scoring: 2nd
DVOA: 12th (2nd in passing, 25th in rushing)
Offensive “strength of schedule”: 17th by DVOA*
*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that last season the Cardinals have faced an average schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.
Arizona Cardinals offense
Despite its reputation and name, the Air Raid offense is not just a “high-powered, high-volume aerial attack”. The offense necessitates dual-threat talent at running back (James Conner leads the team with 166 carries for 630 yards, plus 20 receptions for 209 yards, while Chase Edmonds has 76 carries for 430 yards, 30 receptions for 211 yards) and many short, high-percentage throws.
Because of how the offense is setup, not a single Arizona receiver is likely to gain 1,000 yards this season. However, four of them could end the season in the 600-999 range, and midseason acquisition Zach Ertz has 23 catches for 279 yards and three touchdowns since joining the team in Week 7.
The problem for defenses is no longer “How do you cover DeAndre Hopkins?”, who is actually only third on the team in receiving yards behind Christian Kirk and A.J. Green—it’s “Who do you cover?”
According to FootballOutsiders and DVOA though (and probably EPA, if you follow that), Arizona runs a “highly inefficient” offense that is average at best. OK! Sure! Whatever you say!
2021 Defensive Ranks
Points Allowed: 4th
Yards Allowed: 4th
Turnovers Forced: 6th
Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 3rd
Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 6th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 18th
Yards Per Carry Allowed: 29th
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 4th
Points Per Drive Allowed: 3rd
Third Down Conversions: 3rd
Red Zone Scoring Defense: 18th
DVOA: 3rd (3rd against pass, 15th against run)
Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 21st
Arizona Cardinals defense
It’s easy for us to fall back, be lazy, and just credit an entire season to either the quarterback and/or the head coach, but when you look at the talent on Arizona’s defense and then over at their statistical rankings, it’s hard to not notice the impact of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Equally hard to not envision Vance Joseph getting his second opportunity as an NFL head coach in 2022.
After going 11-21 in two seasons at the helm for the Denver Broncos, when he was asked to make a team competitive against the Kansas City Chiefs despite having Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and Case Keenum at quarterback, Joseph was hired by Kliff Kingsbury to run Arizona’s defense. On paper, the defense had Chandler Jones, Budda Baker, and a couple of recent first round picks at linebacker.
Through 12 games, the Cardinals are seeing the quality presence of Markus Golden (10 sacks), Jordan Hicks (95 tackles, five sacks, team-leading 22 QB hits), and Byron Murphy (four interceptions) for beginners and the end result is a top-three defense.
How are the Rams different from Week 4?
RT Rob Havenstein - Placed on Covid-19 reserve
WR Robert Woods - Torn ACL
RB Darrell Henderson - Covid-19 reserve
WR DeSean Jackson - Released
TE Johnny Mundt - Placed on IR
The Rams could choose to start Joseph Noteboom or Bobby Evans at right tackle on Monday night. Sony Michel will start at running back—he got seven snaps vs Arizona in Week 4. And at TE2, Sean McVay gave 14 snaps to Brycen Hopkins and 10 snaps to Kendall Blanton in the most recent outing.
Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson are the top two receivers in snaps right now, but the addition of Odell Beckham Jr is essentially the replacement for Woods in terms of playing time. Rookie Ben Skowronek is also now a part of the offense.
CB Donte Deayon - Covid-19
LB Kenny Young - Traded to Broncos
DT Sebastian Joseph-Day - Placed on IR
LB Von Miller played in 80-percent of the snaps last week, so he should be good-to-go as a full-time player on defense now. Rookie Ernest Jones played in 95 percent of the snaps last week, and that wasn’t in the gameplan in Week 4. NT Greg Gaines is getting twice as much playing time now with SJD on the mend.
David Long, Jr was a full time player when these teams last met and after being benched for a while, he will be asked to step up against vs the Cardinals tonight.
Another addition to the defense recently is defensive lineman Marquise Copeland.
The Cardinals aren’t much different from Week 4. The Rams are dramatically different. Arizona won that game 37-20 though, so maybe these changes won’t work against Matthew Stafford and company.