The LA Rams made the postseason at 10-6. The Arizona Cardinals failed to get in at 8-8. Had the Cardinals split the season series, rather than getting swept as they did, then at least they could have been ahead of the Chicago Bears and potentially the Rams.
Instead, Arizona missed the postseason for the fifth year in a row and 2021 seems to be an even steeper hurdle than 2020 was for the Cards.
That doesn’t mean you can count out Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, but Arizona will need to play better than they did in either of these two contests against Los Angeles.
Week 1 - Win over the Cowboys
Week 2 - Win over the Eagles
Week 3 - Loss to the Bills
Week 4 - Win over the Giants
Week 5 - Win over a Football Team
Week 6 - Loss to the 49ers
Week 7 - Win over the Bears
Week 8 - Loss to the Dolphins
Week 9 - BYE
Week 10 - Win over the Seahawks
Week 11 - Win over the Bucs
Week 12 - Loss to the 49ers
Week 13 - (7-4) Los Angeles Rams at (6-5) Arizona Cardinals
Important Personnel Notes:
- Enter the Cam Akers era. After 11 games and a couple of minor injuries, Sean McVay finally feels comfortable with Akers as the number one back, giving him a season-high 52 snaps. Akers had played in 47 snaps over the previous three games combined.
- Van Jefferson got 40 snaps — he had 66 snaps over the previous nine games combined — but he gained only 27 yards on four catches. Jefferson wouldn’t catch another pass until Week 17.
- Troy Reeder played in 91% of the defensive snaps.
- Nick Scott played in 53% of the snaps.
- Derek Rivers, a defensive end added off waivers from the Patriots, played in five snaps.
- The Cardinals only had two offensive linemen who played in more than 75% of the snaps, so they were doing some heavy rotations and who knows what that does to an offense.
- I can’t believe that Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella were regulars — Isabella played in a season-high 54 snaps but caught two passes for seven yards. He was inactive over the next three weeks.
In the beginning of the season, it was the Rams always getting off to good starts before cooling down. That was not so consistent as the year went on however and in Week 13, the Cardinals opened the game with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead against LA. This despite the fact that three of their four plays went nowhere — Leonard Floyd was called for a facemask on third-and-9, then Kyler Murray found Dan Arnold for a 59-yard touchdown.
Nobody was near Arnold.
The Rams drove into Arizona territory on the next drive, setting up with first-and-10 at the Cardinals 42, but “Jared Goff pass incomplete short left...” was the result of three of the next four plays and LA turned it over on downs.
In fact, 22 of Goff’s first 22 pass attempts in the game were “short” passes according to Pro-Football-Reference.
And some people think that Goff and Matthew Stafford are similar quarterbacks.
But other than Arnold being wide open to start the game, the Cardinals offense with Kyler and Kliff Kingsbury went k-put in the first half. Their next four drives were all three-and-outs and they gained a total of one yard on those series.
LA’s third drive was a 14-play, 85-yard, 7:12 monster and ended with a nine-yard touchdown run by Cam Akers to tie the game at 7-7.
Oddly enough, the Rams once again had first-and-Goal at the nine on the next drive, but four straight Akers runs gained a total of seven yards and LA turned it over on downs for the second time in the game. Unfortunately, McVay didn’t have a quarterback who he trusted to take over the game inside the red zone. He turned to a rookie running back instead and Arizona was able to contain that attack.
But the Rams defense was better and they actually forced the Cardinals back a yard prior to punting it from their own 1.
LA started the next drive at the Arizona 45 and they once again turned to Akers when they got near the end zone. That resulted in third-and-Goal from he 1, and this time McVay did call a pass, with Goff finding Tyler Higbee for a 14-7 lead.
Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yarder just before halftime.
Returning in the second half with the ball, Goff’s short passes ended up getting a couple of big gains from his running backs — including 30 to Malcolm Brown — and Matt Gay was good from 39 yards out.
Kyler Murray returned with his own short passing game and the Cards had their most complete drive of the day to that point, ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins, making the score 17-14.
LA’s ensuing drive included eight Goff passes — eight of them “short” — and one 5-yard run by Akers. Goff then punched it in himself from the AZ1 and extended the Rams lead. LA forced Arizona to punt on the next drive, but Nsimba Webster fumbled it back to the Cardinals and set Murray up at the LA15.
The Rams have an open competition at punt returner this year.
Kenyan Drake had two runs for 15 yards, cutting the score to 24-21.
McVay liked what the Cardinals defense was giving Goff, so the next drive opened with six straight “short” pass attempts and ended with a 38-yard touchdown run by Darrell Henderson.
Justin Hollins then made a play, forcing a Kyler Murray fumble that was recovered by Greg Gaines.
Still salty that the Broncos cut Justin Hollins. pic.twitter.com/ZObFdXgA0j— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) February 21, 2021
Matt Gay — who hasn’t won the 2021 kicking job yet — was no good from 38 yards out on the next drive.
At this point, the Rams have a strong 31-21 lead with under 5:00 remaining, so the chances of a comeback are slim. However, we’ve seen leads like this evaporate plenty of times before and Murray can make things happen quickly.
He’s also still pretty far away from being a top-five quarterback.
Murray, coming off that ugly sack-fumble against Hollins, floats one to Isabella and Troy Hill makes it look easy by returning it 35 yards for a Rams touchdown. That seals the game and makes the Murray touchdown pass that would come a few minutes later into a meaningless stat pad.
Hill had two pick-sixes last season — the first two of his career — and both came off of Kyler Murray. Both of those plays also essentially “won” the game for the Rams, though I don’t want to overrate that word and ignore all the other plays. But Hill had two brilliant pick-sixes against Murray.
He now plays for the Cleveland Browns and they host the Cardinals on October 17th — Arizona’s “17th game” of the season.