In order for the Los Angeles Rams to have a chance at retaking the NFC West divisional crown, Monday night’s primetime showdown against the Arizona Cardinals is a must-win game. Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals beat the Rams in the Week 4 matchup - and the recipe for a loss in this game has become the formula for bringing down Los Angeles.
Early in the game Matthew Stafford threw an interception looking for DeSean Jackson deep, which helped the Cards jump out to a 7-3 lead. Running back Sony Michel later fumbled deep in Rams territory to set up Arizona for a prime scoring opportunity - resulting in a 21-10 margin.
Matthew Stafford went deep to Desean Jackson but this time he isn't facing the #Bucs defense so he gets picked off.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 3, 2021
Byron Murphy, who won player of the week last week, gets Stafford easily.
Murphy now has 3 INTs this season.pic.twitter.com/IhSI2L8TzG
From that point forward, Stafford and the Rams were playing catchup - and this has become a familiar scenario in all four of the team’s losses. Early turnovers give the opposing team a head start, and then opponents use ball control to maintain the clock and keep Stafford and the LA offense off the field. By the time Los Angeles draws closer, it’s typically too late to make much of a difference.
There are 3 key areas the Rams must be better at this time around if they hope to beat Arizona and contend for a division championship.
1 - Minimize turnovers
I’ve repeated this statistic until I’m blue in the face, but I think the below figures perfectly demonstrate the dichotomy of the Rams’ 2021 season.
LA wins when its quarterback takes care of the football, and turnovers are perhaps the biggest driver of the team’s losses so far. It’s an age-old rule in football - turnover margin is one of the key metrics that drive win/loss records, and this season for the Rams is a clear example of that.
In 8 victories Stafford has thrown 23 touchdowns as opposed to just 3 interceptions.
In contrast, the ratio in losses dips to 7 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions. Stafford also lost a fumble against the Green Bay Packers on a strip sack and Michel had the aforementioned fumble in the earlier matchup with Arizona.
The key takeaway from this statistic is that the Rams go as their quarterback goes - and they need Stafford to take care of the football versus the Cardinals if they want to come out on top.
2 - Stop the run
In the Rams’ Week 4 loss to the Cardinals, Arizona racked up an astonishing 218 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground (ignoring two kneeldowns by backup Colt McCoy). Even more eye-popping is the fact that these yards were gained on only 38 carries, which results in an average of 5.7 yards per attempt. Chase Edmonds gained 120 yards on his own, sealing the game with a 54-yard run with the Cardinals pinned deep in their own territory.
Chase Edmonds gained a career-high +56 rushing yards over expected in the #Cardinals 37-20 victory over the Rams.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 3, 2021
Edmonds faced a light box (6-or-fewer defenders) on 8 of his 12 carries, gaining 102 yards.#AZvsLAR | #RedSea pic.twitter.com/dQl2jByyzP
Kyler Murray and the Arizona passing game is enough to worry about, and the Rams cannot afford to let the Cardinals gash them on the ground.
3 - In-season defensive reinforcements must contribute
The Rams lost OLB Justin Hollins to injury versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, and his absence was sorely felt in the first matchup with the Cardinals - Murray was able to scramble and convert multiple improbable third-and-long situations.
This time around the Rams have reinforcements on defense - primarily star edge rusher Von Miller. Though the trade deadline acquisition of Miller has not yet made an overwhelming difference on the field, in recent weeks opposing teams have prioritized getting the ball out quickly in order to mitigate the LA pass rush. Part of this is an issue with game script, and teams have built up early leads and then played ball control offense for the remainder of the game.
Von Miller puts stress on the set of the 314 lb Yosh Nijman as he goes inside. @VonMiller then uses the OL’s momentum against him as he counter hump/swims & gets a hit on Rodgers! #passrush #larams pic.twitter.com/LSYblaqvXh— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) December 1, 2021
Alongside Miller, Aaron Donald has been as dominant as ever and Leonard Floyd has improved on his solid play from a year ago. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines has also been an effective pass rusher as the primary replacement for Sebastian Joseph-Day.
If the Rams can force the Cardinals into obvious passing situations, Murray should find it much harder to scramble and create plays this time around.