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LA Rams vs Arizona Cardinals Wild Card: 6 keys for a Rams victory

On a big night of NFL playoff firsts, can Rams make a first step to the Super Bowl?

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Not only is the Los Angeles Rams‘ tilt with the Arizona Cardinals the first Monday night postseason game ever, it’s the first playoff game in SoFi Stadium. It is also the first playoff game for Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. And Matthew Stafford’s first home playoff game.

But the first thing on Rams fans minds is how to knock off the Cardinals. There is no magic bullet needed, just apply some tried-and-true winning methods. Play good defense, control the flow of the game, get the ball into you playmakers hands, and use your players skill sets to your advantage.

Here are my six keys to the LA Rams advancing past the Arizona Cardinals next week:

Offense

#1 - Get Odell Beckham Jr. more involved in the offense

Now that the playoff picture has started to sort out, use his stellar athletic talents to loosen up the defenses. OBJ’s punt returning past should tell us what we need to know about his ability to run in the open field, he is probably the fastest receiver on the team, and most certainly has the best contested catch skills.

He could end up being a one year rental, so the Rams need treat him like an apartment dweller uses their digs, wear it out. Bubble screens, jet sweeps, reverses, flea flickers, and every time Matthew Stafford sees him in man-to-man coverage, target him.

#2 - Use more bunch/stack formations

This is the easiest fix. Just run the offense that has a history of success. This is the formation that turned the Rams around, multiple variations of plays can be run and more importantly, this scheme fits their best players skill sets. Cooper Kupp can run, catch and block. Robert Woods, albeit now injured, thrived and Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek, to a lesser extent, have some of these same attributes.

Don’t just take my word for it.

According to Football Outsiders

“Spacing and vertical pressure are key components to McVay’s offense. McVay is notorious for using tight, bunch, and stack formations with his skill players. Aligning players tight to the formation gives receivers more space to work with on the perimeter, while also giving them direct access to the seams. Bunch and stack formations do not allow defenders to easily press or pick up receivers right off the snap. The closeness of receivers’ alignments makes it easy to intertwine their route stems early on and confuse defenders. These formations often coax defenses into playing their cornerbacks wide in off-coverage and utilize two deep safeties as a precaution measure.”

#3 - Run the ball 25 times

The Rams are 7-1 when they run the ball 25 times or more. The only loss was last Sunday’s heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers. No glossy stats to quote here, the fact is that even with moderate yards gained success, the Sean McVay offense is much more harder to defend when the defense has to respect the run. Playoff defensive coordinators will likely jam the box and try to get the Rams to go to the air game. LA cannot fall into this trap.

Even if the offensive line is getting dominated, like last week, or Sony Michel doesn't use his patience or show good vision, stay with the zone run game. It is the nature of this scheme to eventually force the defense into not holding their responsibility and breaking off a big play,

It does not have to be all zone, mix in some leads and sweeps. Looking at the Cardinals on film, teams have done well running off tackle and and outside. The Rams jet sweep used to be a staple of the offense, implementing a myriad of different players. Wide receivers, tight ends, running backs in all possible combinations were in motion and ran the ball to the edges.

Defense

#4 - Be more aggressive on coverage schemes

Jalen Ramsey and David Long are both press corners. Darious Williams has shown he likes to be aggressive. Why not use them where their skill sets offer the most value. Terrell Burgess was drafted for his versatile coverage abilities. Travin Howard was safety in college who was drafted as a coverage linebacker. See where this is going?

There is no need to scrap the whole zone scheme. Just add in some press coverage and pay some man underneath the umbrella coverage. For playoff opponents, there is just too much film on how to attack the Rams soft zone. Going forward, all teams LA will/might come up against have the discipline and talent to exploit the open areas.

Injuries should be less of a concern at the safety position if the corners can lock down successfully. The Cardinals have injuries too, losing DeAndre Hopkins make the Arizona receiving corps pedestrian. Use the players best skill to their best advantage.

#5 - Get off the field on 3rd down

On the season, Arizona has converted 36% their 314 total third down attempts. 176 by the run, 109 by pass, and 29 by penalty. In their two previous games vs. LA, they were successful on 16-28 tries, a 57% clip.

Overall in 2021, the Rams have been in bottom 13 of the NFL in opponents 3rd down conversions. On 223 attempts, LA has allowed their foes to acquire 92 1st downs, 41.3%. In their five losses that rate jumps to 50.7%.

#6 - Get Aaron Donald and Greg Gaines some plays off

Since the bye week, Donald has played 95+% of defensive snaps and Greg Gaines 90+. Gaines even played 7 of 10 snaps vs. the Minnesota Vikings with a broken hand. A’Shawn Robinson has been solid down this same stretch playing 50%. Donald and and Gaines don’t need that much rest, but surely there are situations where these guys can get 12-15 plays off.

Chasing Kyler Murray around for four quarters is going to be very taxing. If the Rams big guys end up being spent late in the game, or even overtime, it makes a game-winning stop that much tougher. Murray ran 13 times for 100 yards vs, LA in the two regular season games and scrambled around on an equal basis. Fresh legs will be tantamount to keeping the Cardinals QB in check.

Conclusion

Arizona has played the Rams very close this season, it will take four full quarters to defeat the Redbirds. How the defense responds after last weeks collapse will go a long way in determining the outcome. The Rams are battling injuries, but Arizona is wounded also. It may boil down to which team can manage to scheme around those injuries to decide who will prevail.

I guess this article wouldn’t be complete without a score prediction. With so many players on both teams nicked up, I envision a shootout ending at 45-31, Rams win.