The Los Angeles Rams travel to Phoenix to face the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals in a season defining game on Monday night. LA will try to avenge a Week 4 loss by finding a weakness with a high-flying Cardinal team that sports the league’s best record.
There’s one common, exploitable vein in the Cards losses and their two close wins: Their opponents ran the ball consistently and successfully.
In defeating Arizona, the Green Bay Packers rushed 34 times for 151 yards, running to win and not just running back the Packers had the lead. Green Bay’s first touchdown drive that day featured six A.J. Dillon runs for 37 yards and two Aaron Jones carries for nine yards and a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers is the star of the show, but Dillon and Jones have been key forces as the dual-headed threat behind him.
In Arizona’s other loss, the Carolina Panthers ran for 166 yards and carried the ball 37 times. The Cardinals were playing insanely bad offensively with Colt McCoy starting that game, but the Panthers took advantage of those mistakes with a complete package effort by Christian McCaffrey in the first half.
Both Carolina and Green Bay enjoyed large advantages in time of possession. In two other tight losses for the Cardinals, the Minnesota Vikings chalked up 177 yards on the ground and the San Francisco 49ers plowed out 152.
On the season as a whole, the Arizona’s overall run defense is ranked in the middle of the pack. When taking into account that they have been far ahead late in most games, forcing the opposition to abandon the run and play catch-up with the pass, their rush D is not that impressive.
Going back to the Week 4 loss versus the Cards, the Rams running attack started hot and then suddenly disappeared after a Sony Michel fumble. In the first quarter, Darrell Henderson and Michel combined for 66 yards on eight attempts, After the early second quarter fumble, Rams running backs only carried eight more times in the game.
Last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sean McVay stayed the course in the run game. The offensive line delivered a good performance using multiple different sets and schemes. He mixed the usual dose of zone, mostly outside but a few inside, with straight-ahead drive blocking, that shield/turn scheme that kinda-sorta looks like RPO blocking (the one Brian Baldinger mocked), and some short-area pulling guards.
Michel made a strong statement about being the #1 RB vs. the Jags and Henderson will return from injury to give the Rams a powerful one-two punch against Arizona. McVay hasn’t determined who will be the lead back on Monday night.
Sean McVay did not want to commit to Sony Michel moving into a traditional lead-back role, BUT added that the type of downhill physicality the Rams utilized behind Michel and some of those blocking concepts is something he believes they'll need down the back stretch. Personal— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) December 7, 2021
The Cardinal defense likes to lay back in a two-deep safety early, on downs and in the game, getting more aggressive as things progress. The Rams can attack the soft two-deep defense with the aforementioned multiple blocking schemes and use their bunch/stack sets to exploit the edges. Other teams have had success getting outside on Arizona, and although Henderson and Michel are north-out runners, they certainly have enough speed to challenge beyond the hash marks.
Monday night will be a big-time, home-game atmosphere. The Cardinals and their fans will fired up to close out the Rams. LA can take advantage of Cardinals relative weak spot by having the will to stick to the run game.
Running the ball 25-30 times would go a long way in not only setting up Matthew Stafford and the Ram passing attack, but also to neutralize Kyler Murray and his high-octane offense, just by keeping him off the field.
What is the key to a Rams victory on Monday night? Let us know what you think!