It was another tentative step forward for the Los Angeles Rams, as they bobbed up and down to a 20-12 victory Sunday, over the host Arizona Cardinals. L.A. came out flying sky high on offense, defense, and special teams. The offense scored on their first three drives, the defense forced three 3-and-outs and a four play drive to start the game and the special teams (ST) blocked a punt in Arizona territory.
the Cardinals have been outscored 31-0 in the first quarter this year— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 25, 2022
14-0 vs KC
7-0 vs LV
10-0 vs LAR
But for the offense and defense, that first quarter proved to be a sugar rush and lethargy would take hold over most of the second and third quarters before the Rams got another energizing dose as the third quarter concluded.
L.A. had eight offensive possessions (and two kneel-down drives) over the course of the game. On their first three drives, they rolled to 147 yards and 13 points. The next three drives totaled 13 net yards on nine total plays. To their credit, they rolled to 146 yards and a touchdown on their final two drives.
The defense opposed nine drives. Forcing punts on the first four while giving up a mere 22 yards on 13 plays. But Arizona adjusted and counter-attacked with the short passing game and penetrated deep into Ram territory on each of their final five drives. They scored on four of those and turned over on downs on the other.
It’s worth mentioning that Matthew Stafford played very well and this game shouldn’t have been as close as the score. Allen Robinson and Cooper Kupp both dropped easy touch down passes that forced L.A. to settle for field goals deep in the redzone and Cam Akers lost a fumble at the goal line late in the game.
The gameplan was vintage Sean McVay, attacking the whole field and distributing the ball. Eight different players were targeted for passes and four ran the football. Short and medium routes were the rule, but deep shots were taken. The Cardinal pass rush and blitz game were countered with screens, both bubble and traditional and the run game nibbled early at the middle and edges. Later in the game when the success of the quick screens widened out the interior, Akers was able to find lanes.
It was good to see Akers get some room and success, he showed good power and contact balance. The Rams only ran the ball 20 times for 100 yards and Sunday’a win saw the return of the jet sweep. They need to keep pounding, it’s hard to lock in a number but 24-25 carries, dispensed among their different-styled playmakers seems right.
I know Cam had that fumble at the 1 yard line, but regardless I was happy to see him have a successful day on the ground including this TD! I hope the coaches continue to instill confidence in him because he is very talented IMO. Notice Benny Skow on the lead block! pic.twitter.com/Zw1DUNhtrB— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) September 26, 2022
Oh yeah, getting Brandon Powell the ball quickly and in space was a revelation. He has that innate ability of quick reads and feet. I’d like to see Tutu Atwell get some of those same plays.
It was another win for the bend-but-don’t-break scheme. The Rams held Arizona to four field goals and 12 points, six third down conversions on 18 attempts (33.3%), and only one play over 20 yards, a broken play that went for a 30 yard gain. L.A. kept up steadily spaced pass rush and pressure, the edges didn’t get pinned inside and thus Kyler Murray could not extend or make plays with his feet.
But on the other, the Cardinals ran 81 offensive plays, controlled the clock for 34 minutes, and gained 384 yards. It took the Cardinals a few series to figure out that the Rams were in an even softer shell coverage than usual and then, they proceeded to exploit it. The Rams didm’t stop the Arizona offense as much it stymied itself. Murray was off in his accuracy and there were a number of dropped passes.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Rams are currently 21st in scoring defense, 23rd against the pass, 10th versus the run, and 26th in advanced defense. For the two and three deep umbrella coverages to work at optimum efficiency, a strong pass rush is required. Although they applied good pressure against the Cards, overall L.A. is 32nd in pressure percentage, 30th in QB knockdown percentage, 32nd in hurry percentage and 21st in sacks.
Again there wasn’t much rotation on the interior defensive line. Aaron Donald played 80 0f 83 snaps (96%) and Greg Gaines 78 of 83 (94%). A’Shawn Robinson was down to 39% with the rotation again being amongst the edge players and the four man fronts.
A complete turnaround from Week 2. Matt Gay was again solid. five touchbacks on five kickoffs and two for two on field goals. Riley Dixon punted three times at 45.0 yards per kick and got enough loft for the coverage teams to limit the Cards to 12 total return yards. Micheal Hoecht got the Rams gong early with an athletic punt block and defensive line mate Jonah Williams almost got another one on the Cards next failed drive. Both of the athletic big men barreled right up the gut. The punt return team was able to deter the opposing gunners and Brandon Powell, with nice wiggle in space, got some nice return yardage, he also had a sweet kick return to close the first half that was scuttled by penalty.
Good way to get it goin’.— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 25, 2022
✋: @mhoecht96 | : @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/22sxrT5Vsi
The Rams are 2-1, back on track and everything's rosy, right?
Any NFL road win is a good one, but the Cardinals are not very good yet— a division rival in name only. Sure, they moved the football through the air, but who hasn’t. Much better teams lie in wait down the road, including two in October with true divisional rivals—the hated San Francisco 49ers.
And I get it, protecting Derion Kendrick was foremost. But allowing opponents to play pitch and catch game-in and game-out, being dominated in time of possession, and sweating out wins over inferior teams is nerve wracking and not a recipe for success. The Rams didn’t stop the Cardinal offense as much as they imploded.
At times, the Rams offense can be unstoppable, but what happens if their possessions are limited? It has to considered, if as the season plays out, the defense can’t get off the field and L.A.’s most potent weapon watches large swathes of the game from the sideline. Can they stay focused and consistently march down field or will they press and try to force the attack? Outscoring an opponent on six drives and 45 plays, as they ran vs. Arizona, is a razor thin margin of success.