LA was missing its top two safeties in Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp. An already short-handed secondary lost corner David Long, Jr. to a knee injury. Veteran Andrew Whitworth was also injured on the first offensive play of the game and his role was limited.
But this didn’t even slow down Los Angeles, at least not in any meaningful way.
The Rams overcame doubts a quarterback that had never won a playoff game could show up under the primetime lights. They overcame a rash of injuries thanks to a handful of important depth players stepping up at key moments. And they won with a complete game in all three phases that showed this team is ready to compete for an NFC championship and the chance to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Cam Akers, RB
Probably the most shocking development in the NFL this year. Even if it doesn't register to the average fan. https://t.co/CwB2iZujNL— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) January 18, 2022
There was no telling what sort of role Cam Akers would play in this Rams playoff run, but in a single game he’s already surpassed any reasonable expectations. Akers was running hard and with impressive burst on Monday night, which is unreal considering he suffered an Achilles injury just six months ago. This type of injury used to be considered career-ending, but the second-year running back added an explosiveness that the Rams’ offense has not had all season.
Akers finished the game with 17 carries for 55 yards and 1 reception for 40 yards. He also had a few chunk plays called back due to penalty. The eye test would indicate that Akers was even better than the statistics show.
Akers did have a drop on a deep pass from Stafford, but it did not appear he was expecting the ball at the time it was arriving. It is reasonable to expect him to need more time to develop a rapport with Stafford, as Monday night marked only his second game this season.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR
LA needed someone to emerge as the number two option in the passing game behind Cooper Kupp, and Odell Beckham, Jr. might have actually been the primary receiving target versus Arizona. The Rams looked in OBJ’s direction early and often Monday night, and the veteran receiver was once again deadly in the red zone.
Beckham caught 4 receptions on 4 targets for 54 yards and 1 touchdown. He also completed a 40-yard pass on a trick play to Akers.
Matthew Stafford, QB
Much had been made of Matthew Stafford’s lack of a playoff victory during his time in Detroit, but the quarterback is now 1-0 in the postseason as a Ram. It was a big night for LA’s signal caller, even though the game was in control early and the team did not ask him to do too much in this one.
Stafford finished the game 13 of only 17 passes (76.5%) for 202 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a traditional passer rating of 154.5. He was efficient and took calculated risks to push the ball downfield when appropriate, which kept the ball out of harm’s way throughout the game.
After 13 seasons, 182 regular season starts, nearly 50,000 passing yards, and over 320 touchdowns, Matthew Stafford has his first playoff victory. pic.twitter.com/7G0NvsiEVB— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) January 18, 2022
Safeties - Terrell Burgess, Nick Scott, Eric Weddle
It is certainly not an ideal situation to lose both starting safeties the week before a playoff run - especially when facing a unique quarterback like Kyler Murray. While Jordan Fuller is expected to miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, the Rams could get Taylor Rapp back from concussion protocol next week. The secondary just needed to survive one game with Terrell Burgess, Nick Scott, and the recently unretired Eric Weddle - and they did more than that.
Burgess had an effective night and seemed reliable in coverage. He also recorded five total tackles, which was tied for third most on the defense against Arizona.
Nick Scott had played quite a bit on defense during the regular season, so it was not surprising to see him on the field for most of the game. It was surprising to see him lay such physical hits on the Cardinals’ wide receivers, including a big strike on AJ Green that forced the ball out for an incompletion on what would have been one of the Arizona’s biggest plays in the first half.
The Rams seemed intent to work in Weddle early in the game in obvious passing situations, though he did not end up on the stat sheet. LA did not play him much once the outcome was in hand, so it’s possible they want him as fresh as possible for next week or wanted to conceal any substitute packages they might have in place for him.
Joe DeCamillis, Special Teams Coordinator
While there were no particularly explosive returns in this game for the Rams, the team managed to put together one of its better overall special teams performances of the season when it mattered the most.
Los Angeles was constantly ahead in terms of the field position battle - Johnny Hekker gave his coverage unit favorable punts that were downed deep in Arizona territory, including one at the 1-yard line by rookie Ben Skowronek. Brandon Powell cleanly fielded all of his punt return opportunities and managed to return the ball to the midfield mark on more than one occasion. Matt Gay converted both of his field goal opportunities (long of 46) and all four of his extra point attempts.
Considering how poorly the Rams played on special teams early in the year, and the number of backbreaking penalties this unit had committed, Sean McVay should be very pleased with how DeCamillis’ crew has responded late in the season and into the playoffs.
Edge Rushers - Von Miller & Leonard Floyd
OBJ is not the only mid-season acquisition that paid dividends for the Rams in this game - Von Miller was a disruptive force and was able to tee off on Murray once the game script pushed them into a pass-heavy offense. Miller lived in the Arizona backfield all night and was also strong in the run game - he finished with 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss.
Sure, Von Miller was brought in to rush the passer but it's been really interesting watching how much he can also affect the run. Really solid effort plays even early on, when the sacks weren't there yet.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 18, 2022
Leonard Floyd also had a good game for the Rams, though he wasn’t necessarily as impactful as Miller. Floyd and Miller’s athleticism helped keep Murray’s scrambling efforts in check - and Floyd pressured Murray on multiple scrambles that resulted in errant passes.
LA will head to Tampa Bay next week and will face Tom Brady, who poses a much different threat than Murray. The Rams will need this duo to continue to be disruptive if they hope to throw the GOAT off his game.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT
When the Rams lost to the Cardinals back in Week 4 of the regular season, Arizona’s effectiveness in the running game was a major reason why - the Cards ran for 216 yards in that matchup.
This time around Los Angeles held Arizona to only 61 rushing yards on 18 carries (3.4 average), and the performance of A’Shawn Robinson on the defensive line stood out in a massive way. Robinson made a number of physical tackles at the line of scrimmage and kept the Cardinals from getting much going on the ground. He finished with a team-leading 7 total tackles and was around the football all game long.
Sure, we could nitpick and say that the offensive line committed too many penalties which resulted in a handful of chunk yardage plays being called back; however, the OL was jumping off the ball and creating room in the running game. Stafford was also only sacked once and he appeared to have sufficient time to throw in his limited drop back opportunities. It could have been a cleaner game for the big guys up front, but they played well enough and improved over a rough performance in Week 18 versus the San Francisco 49ers.
This was a complete team victory for the Rams and winning in such a convincing fashion takes contributors in all three phases of the game. There are no losers for Los Angeles in this one.