The Los Angeles Rams swept a division opponent for a second straight week after beating the Arizona Cardinals, 37-14. Kyren Williams made his debut off of injured reserve and rushed for 143 yards and also scored two touchdowns. The Rams defense played lights out following the opening drive in what was the most complete win for Los Angeles this season. Let’s get into this week’s 10 takeaways.
1. McVay’s Decision to Go For It on Opening Drive Set Tone
Over the past two weeks there has seemingly been a shift in the aggressiveness from head coach Sean McVay. From his second-down play call in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks to his decision to go for it on Sunday, he has been more aggressive.
---> LA (0) @ ARI (0) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) November 26, 2023
LA has 4th & 1 at the ARI 22, Q1 12:34
Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+4.6 WP)
Actual play: K.Williams right tackle to ARZ 14 for 8 yards (B.Ojulari; J.Thompson). pic.twitter.com/2HGxMS95u7
The Rams easily could have settled for three points on the opening drive. Instead, McVay decided to go for it and trust his offense. McVay rightfully called a run to the right behind Kevin Dotson, Rob Havenstein, and Puka Nacua that picked up eight yards. The Rams also gained 4.6 win percentage points in the process. It’s easy to get result-oriented with these types of decisions. However, it’s more important that the right decision is being made. This was a very good decision by McVay.
2. Defense Remained Dominant
Following opening drive touchdowns over the past two weeks, the Rams defense has locked down. The Cardinals started the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive. They proceeded to go three-and-out on their next four possessions. Arizona started the game with a 75-yard drive and then had 54 total yards until their final two drives in garbage time.
Per the Athletic, McVay said,
“We’ve had some tough, close losses where we’ve just come up short, and a lot of good opportunities to be able to establish and develop some grit, and continue to learn. But they’ve been a fun, consistent group in terms of the energy that they’ve brought, all of the different things they present in terms of the coachability, the accountability. It’s awesome to see a lot of the work pay off…let’s keep doing that, because I do think there is something to be (said) about learning how to win.”
This isn’t to say that the Rams defense locked down a high-powered offensive unit. With that said, Arizona did rank sixth in offensive success-rate in Weeks 10 and 11. Taking out garbage time, the Rams defense ranked seventh in EPA per play for the week and allowed just a 34.1 percent success rate. There was a point where Kyler Murray wasn’t completing 50 percent of his passes. These are performances that can the unit can build on moving forward.
3. Kyren Williams and Royce Freeman Show Glimpse of What’s To Come
Was it Kyren Williams and Royce Freeman on the field on Sunday or Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson? That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s also easy to see how these two players complement each other. The Rams have been looking for two running backs that can work together since 2019. They simply haven’t found the right pairing. Williams and Freeman could end up being just that.
These are two players that McVay can trust to carry the ball and run the offense. They both add a little something different when they are on the field. Freeman and Williams are decisive when running and rarely take a loss. This duo allows the Rams run game to be efficient and both combined for 220 yards rushing on Sunday.
4. Williams Brings Back Memories of Todd Gurley in Rams Offense
This is not at all to say that Kyren Williams is similar to Todd Gurley. Gurley was an Offensive Player of the Year and one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL when healthy. With that said, Sunday was the first time in quite a while that a running back was such a big part of the Rams offensive game plan. When Williams is on the field for the Rams, he clearly makes a difference in the run game.
Rams rush offense this season:— Fabian Sommer (@suuma810) November 27, 2023
With Kyren Williams (n=122):
50% success rate
Without Kyren Williams (n=161):
40.4% success rate
Against the Cardinals, Williams had six receptions to pair with over 100 yards on the ground. It’s the first time that a running back has done that in the Rams offense since Gurley in 2018. We’ll see if he can continue this against a team other than the Cardinals. However, the Rams may have just found their spark to the run game and that’s a very good thing. It may just open up the McVay offense in a way that we haven’t seen in a while.
5. Offensive Lines Deserves Credit For Dominating in the Trenches
For a good run game to work, everything has to come together as one unit and that includes the offense line. The running back position is heavily dependent on the blocking as well as the offensive scheme. Kyren Williams is running well, but the offensive line is also performing at a very high level. This was seen not only on Williams’ 56 yard run in which Avila and Shelton sealed off the back side, but also on Williams’ touchdown off the screen pass where Dotson did some good work down field in space.
This season, the Rams offensive line ranks ninth in the NFL in adjusted line yards with 4.37. This metric takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line. Additionally, Williams is averaging 4.3 yards before contact which leads the NFL. No other running back is averaging more than 3.8. Out of Williams 599 yards, 473 of them or 79 percent have come before contact. This is a situation where two things can be true at the same time. The Rams run game is working as a unit for the first time in a while.
6. Jordan Fuller Was All Over the Field
The Rams secondary played one of their best games of the season. Simply put, not a lot was available for the Cardinals when throwing the ball. Fuller only had three tackles, but was very active in the passing game. That’s a shift from the beginning of the season before the bye week.
Gathering some stuff for this week's column and found a tidbit - the Rams' secondary was at the bottom of the NFL in weeks 1-10 with 29 PBUs. Over the last two games, they are No. 1 in PBUs with 17, and up to No. 18 overall. Jordan Fuller led team in those two games with four.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 27, 2023
Fuller had four pass breakups, including one on fourth down in the first half and another came on third down in the second half to force a punt. Fuller’s play has been up and down at points this season. However, since the bye week, he’s been very good which is a credit to Raheem Morris.
7. Kobie Turner Continues to Flash on the Field
Here is some food for thought. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Jalen Carter with the ninth overall pick. He has four sacks this season. Two rounds and 80 picks later, the Rams selected Kobie Turner at 89. He also has four sacks.
Now, this isn’t to say that Turner is as good as Carter. There’s a reason Carter is in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, the Rams clearly found value in Turner later in the draft. Turner had his first multi-sack game against the Cardinals and flashes on tape every single week.
8. Kicking Situation Remains Work in Progress
Hidden in the win will be misses from kicker Lucas Havrisik. Havrisik missed a kick from 50 yards and also missed an extra point. Those four points weren’t needed today, but they are emphasized in a game like last week that the Rams only won 17-16. Against the Steelers, the Rams lost by seven with seven points off the board because of kicking gaffes. Brett Maher was released that following week.
Havrisik may not be the answer and at this point, it’s hard to say exactly what the solution is. It’s not as if there is a field of kickers out on the market just waiting to signed. It remains a problem and the Rams just have to hope at this point that it doesn’t cost them a win and therefore a potential playoff spot down the stretch.
9. Young Rams Team Showing Some Consistency
There is something to be said about Sunday’s win coming against the Cardinals. It’s not as if the Rams beat an NFL powerhouse. Still, after the game Kyler Murray said, “This was probably the first time all year we just got beat terribly.” It wasn't just that the Rams won, it was how they won.
The Cardinals have been competitive all year, losing four games by one score. It’s the first time this season that the Rams have played a full game and the first time that they’ve won back-to-back games. It’s fair not to overreact, but it’s also a positive sign.
10. Rams Remain Alive in NFC Playoff Hunt
Things didn’t necessarily go the Rams’ way in Week 12. The Green Bay Packers surprised the Detroit Lions with a win, keeping them in the hunt. They have the tiebreaker over the Rams due to the Brett Rypien game. The Atlanta Falcons also beat the New Orleans Saints. Still, the Rams currently have a 29 percent chance at the playoffs.
It’s hard to say right now whether or not the Rams are a playoff team, but they also are looking to be out of the running for a top-10 pick. The Cleveland Browns next week could be forced to start PJ Walker at quarterback and be without Myles Garrett. One game at a time and the Rams may be playing for a spot in the playoffs in Week 18 against the San Francisco 49ers.