The Los Angeles Rams absolutely punished the Arizona Cardinals in a 34-11 victory on Monday night. The win grants them an extended stay in the playoffs where they will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. After questions surrounding LA following a brutal loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week, the Rams found a way to put it all together and play their most dominant game of the season.
"Unbelievable job! So proud of you guys!"— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 18, 2022
Coach breaks us down after a great team win. pic.twitter.com/sUoBQNFyoC
If it wasn’t Johnny Hekker pinning the Cardinals in their own 10 yard line, it was the Rams defense wreaking havoc on Kyler Murray and his offense, or Matthew Stafford picking apart the AZ defense. All three phases put together a dominant effort that should help propel them forward next week against Tampa Bay. Before we get too ahead of ourselves though, here are the four things I learned this week in LA’s beatdown of their division rival.
I might have been wrong about Raheem Morris
Following the ugly loss last week to the San Francisco 49ers, I wrote that Raheem Morris was likely going to be one and done with the Rams after allowing the 49ers to come back in the final seconds of the game and ultimately defeat LA in overtime. Looking back at that observation I might still be right, but not for the reasons I wrote last week. If Morris’ defense plays like they did against the Cardinals, he will most definitely be landing a head coach position somewhere in the league.
The Rams defense played their best game of the season on Monday night—and possibly put together the greatest half of football ever played in the playoffs by a defense. In the first two quarters, Kyler Murray and his offense put up just 40 yards of total offense, 2 interceptions—one of which was a pick-six, and at one point had four three-and-outs in a row. Aaron Donald and Von Miller both had sacks while the rest of the defensive line kept Murray uncomfortable and contained... and yes I am still just talking about the first half of football.
Kyler made a business decision once he saw Aaron Donald pic.twitter.com/NzZxBIk7iA— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 18, 2022
Kyler Murray finished the game with his lowest QBR of the season with a 40.9 and had just 137 yards passing and six yards rushing. The Cardinals run game was also a non-factor with A’Shawn Robinson and Von Miller stuffing anything that came their way. Robinson finished as the leader in tackles with seven and Miller brought up the rear with six; including three tackles for a loss and a QB hit.
If the Rams defense can continue to play like this moving forward they will not only appear to be unstoppable as they continue to navigate towards their ultimate goal, Morris will be a head coach for one of the teams with vacancies.
Blown Achilles who?
Cam Akers looked plenty healthy on Monday and could have had an even better game if not for a dropped pass that was a tad underthrown by Matthew Stafford. Akers finished the game with 55 yards on 17 carries and one reception for 40 yards that was thrown by Odell Beckham. Like many of the skill players for LA, he would have had even more of an impact if not for numerous holding penalties called on the offensive line that negated positive gains—but I digress.
YOU LOVE TO SEE IT!! CAM AKERS pic.twitter.com/0QgPamxMHw— 2021 National Champs Barstool FSU (@FSU_Barstool) January 18, 2022
Akers was fresh, fast, and strong. His breakaway speed and bulldozing ability was on full display in his true return to football after blowing his Achilles early in the offseason. Six months removed from the injury, Akers is about to become a huge part of the equation for the Rams offense as they prepare to take on one of the leagues best defenses next week.
Sean McVay’s empty gun on third down still scares me
Not only was I critical of Morris last week, but I was also very critical on McVay’s play calling. Last week on third-and-1, McVay put Stafford in empty gun formation and within a second Stafford was sacked and the entire momentum of the game shifted towards the opposing team. Against the Cardinals he made the same call—multiple times.
Facing a third-and-2 with 13:30 left in the second quarter, Stafford lined up in empty gun formation. Beckham ran to the left side of the field and was lost in coverage due to the traffic created by the other receivers’ routes. Stafford found him wide-open quickly and he nearly scored but was tackled at the two yard line. Gain of 31.
Then on a third-and-three with 7:50 left to play in the fourth quarter, Stafford again lines up in empty gun formation. In similar fashion as the one above the three receivers line up grouped together and on the snap burst out in three different directions that confuse defenders. Kupp gets a great release from his stance and Stafford hits him in the middle of the field. The triple crown winner gets a good amount of yards after the catch to give LA the first down and a gain of 29 yards.
Though both attempts went for huge gains, they are predicated on route development. Any sort of early pass rush at the snap of the ball negates any chance of the play working—as we saw last week. The difference is that the offensive line was playing some of their best football Monday night. They gave Stafford plenty of time to find his receivers and allow the routes to develop.
Unsung heroes come out of the shadows
The Rams defense had multiple setbacks due to injury before the start of Monday night’s playoff game: Ernest Jones was lost to injury in Week 16, Taylor Rapp missed the game due to a concussion suffered in Week 18 while it was announced that Jordan Fuller would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury suffered in the same game. General Manager Les Snead in combination with the coaching staff sneaked veteran Eric Weddle out of retirement to provide some depth behind David Long Jr. and Terrell Burgess. Somehow it all worked out.
The usual stars were shining bright for LA with Von Miller and Aaron Donald wreaking havoc against the opposition. Jalen Ramsey was quiet—which typically is going to be a good thing, and Leonard Floyd was his disruptive self. Yet it was not any of those four superstars that made the play of the game, rather it was some of the unsung heroes stepping up when the team needed them to.
Troy Reeder put pressure on Murray deep in his own territory and was about to get a safety when the speedy QB launched an errant throw up for grabs. Long not only out-raced everyone else to the ball but also ran it in for the touchdown. Then, when the Cardinals were finally getting some traction on offense, albeit they were already down 21 points, it was Marquise Copeland that came away with an interception off the fingertips of Chase Edmonds. Dont’e Deayon also continued to make a name for himself when he batted away a deep toss intended for Antoine Wesley and nearly had an interception himself.
Even if the biggest stars on the Rams defense play their biggest games it is a waisted effort if the rest of the team cannot elevate themselves. On Monday, the Rams unsung heroes did just that—they succeeded when they had opportunities and rose to the occasion on NFL’s biggest stage.
What did you learn this Week? Let’s discuss in the comments below!