It was the Los Angeles Rams defense that held off the barbarians at the gate in Sunday’s 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. While the offense lolled around until the second half, Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris’ unit mixed some exotic blitz pakages with his standard bend-but-don’t break tactics to hold off the upstarts.
By no means was it a dominating overall effort. The L.A. defense bent for typical yardage (345) and first downs (20), but on this outing they did not allow the Cards to break into the end zone. As the Rams offense snoozed away the first half, Arizona was able to drive into L.A. territory on four of six drives (not counting the final kneel down), score on three of six drives, and control the ball for 21 of 30 minutes. The defense’s success should be measured by holding the Cardinals to field goals and not letting the game get away before the Rams offense was ready to fight.
One trend I am seeing from the Rams in the Red Zon is that they are willing to try & hit a home run early with a max blitz.— Cody Alexander (@The_Coach_A) October 11, 2023
Here is an example from their Eagles matchup. #ArtofX pic.twitter.com/9sO3tT6uTH
In half two, the Rams offense woke up and with the help of two turnovers provided by the defense, reversed the time of possession numbers. The Cardinals did pile up offensive yardage, but 105 of those yards came after L.A. made it a three score game. In the first 25 minutes of the second half, the Cards were limited to three possessions, 74 yards, and two turnovers.
Here’s how the drives shook out.
Rams come out and force two plays for no gain. On third and long, Cards QB Josh Dobbs breaks the pocket and rambles for 25 yards. The first down was made, but safeties Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake had opportunities to limit the gain. Yeast took a took a bad pursuit angle and Lake made a futile dive at the QB’s ankles. On the very next play, E Ochaun Mathis was a half-count slow off the snap and was pinned inside by two tight ends working a combo block for a 12 yard run. From the Rams 39, Arizona ran three straight passes. The first had to be thrown away under decent pressure and the second was a completed quick out/swing that CB Ahkello Witherspoon came up rapidly on and held to two yards. On the third, Witherspoon was beaten by WR Marquise Brown down the sideline, but the pass was slightly underthrown and ‘Spoon was able to use his length to deflect it away. Cardinals bang home the 55 yard field goal. Cards 3, Rams 0.
Cardinals start at their own seven after a nice punt by Ethan Evans and move to midfield before the drive stalls. Arizona ran 11 plays for 53 yards and converted two long third downs. On the first QB Dobbs broke the pocket and extended the play, CB DeCobie Durant was covering a TE and although had pretty good position, was blocked out by the bigger body to move the sticks. On the second, the Cards caught the Rams in a blitz with a screen and converted. On third and two after a short incompletion and run up the middle, DT Jonah Williams beautifully looped up the gut and sacked the QB to scuttle the drive. Cards 3, Rams 0.
Arizona opened the second quarter with a four and out. The drive began with play action counter bootleg pass to a wide open TE for 16 yards, but the Rams quickly tightened up. A wide swing pass for a couple, a QB read-option run off tackle for a loss where DT Aaron Donald sniffed it out and burst behind the pulling blockers, and an incomplete underneath pass that was well short of the line to gain forced a punt. Cards 3, Rams 3.
I’ve seen others post about this. @NFL not crediting AD for his sack here.— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) October 16, 2023
Some say it was because it was a read-option run, but that is very subjective when it looks more of an aborted play because of Donald’s performance to blow up the play instantly! pic.twitter.com/cgTPcQW5OQ
The defense had to come right back on the field when punt returner Austin Trammel fumbled the kick at the Rams 17. The defense stepped up in the red zone and forced a three and out, limiting the damage to a field goal. QB Dobbs twice threw high into good coverage by S Jordan Fuller and on third down completed a short pass underneath nowhere near the stick. Cards 6, Rams 3.
Even though Arizona began with good field position after a good punt return, L.A. stacked its third straight solid defensive stand. It started rough with poor tackling allowing two runs and a flat pass for 22 yards. But on a second and short, Jonah Williams and Michael Hoecht combined for a run stop at the line. The interior stopped a “tush push” on third down and when the Cards tried it again on fourth, they mis-aligned for a penalty. On fourth and six, QB Dobbs threw deep down the sideline. Again WR Marquise Brown had beaten CB Ahkello Witherspoon, but the pass was just wide and Brown could not keep his feet in bounds. Cards 6, Rams 3.
The Rams had a good chance to squelch this drive before it got started. After two wide runs were stopped for -3 yards, QB Dobbs was chased from the pocket. It looked like a hustling DT Kobie Turner was going to make the stop short of a first down, but slipped off the tackle. In the confluence of defenders bad angles, overunning the play, and lackluster pursuit. QB Dobbs was able to make the line to gain. A short run and swing pass got Arizona on the Rams side of the field with a first down, After a short run, DT Aaron Donald sacks QB Dobbs, but DT Michael Hoecht is called for a ticky-tack 15 yard face mask penalty. Two runs for 15 yards by RB Keontay Ingram were sandwiched around a short loss on a sweep. On third down inside the 10, DT Jonah Williams penetrated the line and stopped Ingram for a loss, forcing the short field goal. Cards 9, Rams 3.
Kneel down with four seconds left in first half. Cards 9, Rams 6.
After a sweep for one yard and an inside run that went for six where DT Aaron Donald just missed the tackle at the line, Arizona faced third down. They converted on a tightly covered pass, but the play was called back for illegal motion. On the replay, QB Dobbs threw wide and high for a three and out. Rams 13, Cards 9.
QB Dobbs marched the Cardinals down the field and into the red zone on three passes. Two throws were of the short variety for 19 yards to TE Trey McBride and WR Marquse Brown found a soft spot in the zone for 22 yards. Add a face mask penalty on CB Derion Kendrick and the Cardinals were in business inside the L.A. A late blitz by LB Ernest Jones appeared to rattle QB Dobbs and his flat-footed throw to an open TE underneath was late and behind. The ball caromed off the receiver’s back hand and into the arms of LB Christian Rozeboom for a drive-killing interception. Rams 16, Cards 9.
With eight minutes left in the game and down by two scores, Arizona is forced to throw and Rams pass rush is starting tighten the noose. After a first-play holding penalty, QB Dobbs, under pressure, hits TE Zach Ertz on consecutive throws over the middle to covert a 1st and 20. But when Dobbs looks downfield for a deeper pass, E Byron Young sweeps around from his blindside for a strip sack. L.A. recovers. Rams 23, Cards 9.
From this point on the Rams secondary is dropping back at the snap into a soft shell and the yardage is mostly for mop up stats, but it does give the Rams line a chance to pin their ears back and get after it. QB Dobbs was hurried into three incompletions before hitting a fourth down pass. After that conversion, he was harried and took hits on an intentional grounding penalty, a near interception, a short scramble after being chase from the pocket, and a bad miss fourth down throw. Rams 26, Cards 9.
With less than two minutes in the game, the only question was if the defense could hold Arizona without a touch down for the game and get well-deserved credit for a second half shutout. QB Dobbs does ink 70 yards of passing yards into the prevent defense, but runs out of time short of the end zone. Final score Rams 26, Cards 9.
Jumping way to far ahead after a one game win streak
Beating a 1-4 team isn’t something you would normally beat on your chest about, but the biggest takeaway from the win and a reason to do it was just that. The Rams figured out a way to win, not come up a play or two short. Yes, the first half was difficult to watch, the offense was moribund and you just can’t lean back and enjoy watching this defense. You’re in a constant state of shifting cheek to cheek, rocking back to front and waving arms.
There are some inherent weaknesses, but the young defense is playing its ass off. The smallish interior line has not been pushed around, it’s from the tackles outward where opposing offense are attacking. As infuriating as it can be, the secondary schemes are going to give up completions and yardage, but the youngsters are getting more chances to make plays. The linebackers are actively involved in the blitz game, both real and simulated
Raheem Morris is coaching his ass off as well. I’ve been a critic of his schemes in the past, but he’s coaching fast and loose, like he’s got nothing to lose. Almost like if his future depends on it.
Yes, it’s only six games in, but believe it or not, according to NFL.com, if the season were over today, the Rams would own the 7th and final playoff spot and have remaining games with two teams directly ahead of them, the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
There are plenty of wins for the taking on the remaining schedule. Of the Rams final 11 games, seven are against teams in the bottom half of NFL scoring, eight in the bottom half of passing offenses, and eight are in the bottom half of running offenses.
With the Pittsburg Steelers coming to town, can the Rams defense stack another solid outing against a struggling offense and quarterback?