Monday Night Football delivered a four quarter grudge match between the top two teams of the NFC West as the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals 30-23. The Rams got hit with mid week and last minute roster updates that made a handful of starting players unavailable and still pulled out the win.
Here are the breakdowns by position and the resulting letter grade.
Matthew Stafford was fantastic playing a mistake free game when it counted the most. He threw 23 completions in 30 attempts for 287 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions. For the second consecutive game he threw a touchdown pass to all three of his primary receivers. Stafford was sacked three times, although one was paired with an obvious no call on a face mask violation, he operated with decent time in the pocket but also was required to demonstrate movement while working roll outs and evading rushers. Ball security for Stafford has improved as he completes his second game with no interceptions or fumbles since November.
Sony Michel got his second start this season as Darrell Henderson Jr was unavailable as part of a hefty list of COVID related unavailability. The game plan was to rely on the run game to control the tempo and provide a balanced attack with the pass and Sony Michel delivered that kind of stability running for 79 yards on 20 attempts and a long of 19 yards. Michel is demonstrating the type of strength and durability that is required of a starting back and one that can help the Rams for the remainder of the season.
All three primary receivers caught touchdown passes for the second consecutive game. Cooper Kupp is leading the National Football League in all major statistical categories and gained enough to reach 5,000 career receiving yards on Monday night. Kupp had 13 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown with a long of 44 yards against the Cardinals. Odell Beckham Jr has caught a touchdown in his last three games and against Arizona had six receptions for one touchdown an showed off his strong hands and red zone skills. Van Jefferson also had another big show as he caught the longest touchdown pass of the night on a 52 yard strike on play action roll out from Stafford. Also Kupp is one of the best blockers in the league.
Tyler Higbee was ruled out of the game in a last minute COVID related ruling and the position was then on the shoulders of Kendall Blanton and Brycen Hopkins. Blanton caught two passes on three targets for 29 yards with 23 yards coming on his longest catch. The blocking security took a dip as Blanton and Hopkins aren't the blockers that Higbee is but they got the job done.
The offensive line had a good game against one of the better defenses in the National Football League even as one of the starting tackles was unavailable for the game and the other made history as the first tackle to start at the age of 40. Rob Havenstein was on the COVID reserve list and Andrew Whitworth once again protected Stafford’s blind side as most seasoned player to ever do it. Coleman Shelton and Joseph Noteboom stepped in for Brian Allen and Havenstein and allowed for 356 yards of offense while surrendering three sacks. (one sack was a face mask no call)
Aaron Donald had five tackles, three sacks, three tackles for a loss, and a pass deflection that resulted in the first interception in the game and might have been the most impactful play of the night. Donald started the game with a sack on the first play of the game and got his third sack on the last play of the game book ending a night that had the best defensive player in the league taking over when his team needed him the most. Greg Gaines continues to show why he will be a reliable asset on the line of scrimmage adding to a solid run defense that capped the Cardinals lead running back at only 31 yards rushing.
Ernest Jones and Leonard Floyd both had interceptions. Jones continues to rapidly progress in his rookie year with a game altering interception which is his second of the season. He was stout in run defense and pass coverage. Floyd had the team high eight tackles, one hit on the quarterback and one pass deflection to go along with his interception.
The defensive backs played without their star Jalen Ramsey and held up against at least one of the most capable receivers in the league. Kareem Orr was called up from the practice squad and was targeted early in the game. David Long Jr and Darious Williams also stepped up to the task as Deandre Hopkins was limited to five catches for 54 yards and zero touchdowns.
Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp did a good job of keeping the game in front of them and limiting the big plays. Murray was able to get off a few chunk throws but none of them went for touchdowns. As the Rams started to control the game, the coverage backed off and it became more critical to
Matt Gay hit all three of this field goal attempts including a 55 yarder. Brandon Powell had one return for 27 yards and the hands team surrounded an onside kick to the Cardinals at the end of the game.
Sean McVay brought his A game and seems to be evolving the offense and getting the best out of his defense. The use of more heavy sets and tight ends have led to facilitation of the run game success. Play action and roll outs are helping to negate the pass rush which has resulted in mistake free play by the quarterback. The defense was dealt a blow losing Ramsey for the game but with a depleted secondary, the front seven was able to stop the run and contain Murray in the pocket and apply pressure at the same time resulting in a game that was controlled by the Rams defense and uncomfortable for the Cardinals passer.