After bird watching a high-flying first drive, the Los Angeles Rams defense put down the binoculars and clipped the wings of the Arizona Cardinals 37-14 in Sunday’s NFC West matchup. It was the Rams second consecutive win and helped up their record up to 5-6.
The Cards gained 75 yards on that first drive and went ahead 8-7 after a two-point conversion. After that, the Rams defense allowed only 55 total yards over 32 plays until they cleared the bench in the middle of the fourth quarter. The dominance included five three and out’s, four quarterback sacks, and seven straight drives that ended in failure for the Cardinals.
Here’s what the defensive drive chart can tell us.
The Cardinals first drive was nothing fans aren’t used to. The 12 play, 75 yard drive was punctuated by missed tackles and wide open receivers underneath. On the drives third play, defensive tackle (DT) Aaron Donald burst through and blew up the play but didn’t wrap up and running back (RB) James Conner slipped off AD and broke an arm tackle by edge (E) Michael Hoecht at line of scrimmage. It only ended up being a four yard gain, but should have been a five yard loss.
Two plays later, cornerback (CB) Ahkello Witherspoon was beaten on a drag pattern underneath and his missed tackle allowed wide receiver Marquise Brown to gain an additional seven yards. It could have been much more as he tip-toed up the sideline, but the stripe was barely compromised, holding the gain to 17. On the very next play the Cards tight end (TE) took in a short pass and bullied into CB Derion Kendrick turning a short pass into a 12 yard pick up.
Down in the red zone, Arizona ran a sweep that the Rams strung out well, forcing RB Conner to cut back. E Byron Young slid off a backside tackle that would have limited it to a short gain and DT Kobie Turner also missed a little further downfield as the run gained 12. A couple of plays later, Cards punched it in. Cardinals 8, Rams 7.
Three and out. On opening play, the Rams dropped back and only rushed three, forcing quarterback (QB) Kyler Murray to misfire underneath. On play two, good pressure on Murray and a wide throw down up the sideline with CB Witherspoon in sticky coverage. Play three was an incomplete check down, on which safety (S) Russ Yeast put big hit on the TE to squash the drive. Cardinals 8, Rams 7.
Three and out. QB Murray throws a lollipop deep downfield, S Jordan Fuller makes a nice strip on the contested catch ball from the Cards WR. Incomplete. RB Conner pounds off tackle for a couple. On third and long, DT Kobie Turner clubs the center aside and gets a sack right up the gut. Rams 14, Cardinals 8.
Safety Jordan Fuller had one of his best games as pro this past Sunday.— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) November 27, 2023
Fuller had defensive stops on a few big gain potential moments and a crucial 4th down pass breakup. The defensive captain was stout! pic.twitter.com/wWvUgLtq1V
After a missed Rams field goal, Arizona starts with good field position at their own 40. Two runs for little gain sandwiched around a short pass completion brought up fourth down around midfield at the iwo minute warning. DT’s Bobby Brown and Desjuan Johnson both had a strong stack-and-shed to limit the runs. On fourth down, S Fuller broke quickly downhill and to the sideline to break up a short pass and turn the ball over. L.A. Rams 14, Cardinals 8.
59 seconds left in the half and Arizona goes three and out. QB Murray opens with a five yard completion underneath and follows with a poor throw under pressure. On third down, Murray goes deep down the sideline, but CB Witherspoon has the WR blanketed in trail position and at the point of action, knocks the ball away. Rams 21, Cardinals 8.
The Cards get the ball one more time in the first half at midfield after a Rams interception. After an incompletion underneath, Arizona conservatively runs the ball twice for 14 yards and tries for a 56 yard field goal at the gun. it’s good, but a holding penalty nullifies it and ends the half. Rams 21, Cardinals 8.
A wild drive. The Rams seemingly force a three and out, but Arizona converts a fake punt for a new set of downs. Over the next five plays, the Cards commit three penalties ending in third and 37. Good coverage held up and the pressure finally got to QB Murray, he threw off his back foot into a soft deep zone and while he did complete it for 20 yards, the WR had to come back for it and the play ended well short of the first down. Rams 21, Cardinals 8.
After a Rams field goal, Arizona is forced to the air. QB Murray throws six passes, completes four and has one nullified due to penalty. All were of the short variety, underneath the L.A. zone and limiting the pass rush pressure. The Cards did get some yards after catch, but on third and long S Jordan Fuller read the QB all the way and broke down on a short pass to knock it away and kill the drive. A 56 yard field goal attempt was wide. Rams 24, Cardinals 8.
A three and out to start the fourth quarter. First, a good open-field tackle by linebacker Christian Rozeboom on a checkdown pass, then pressure forces another short pass high and incomplete (CB Witherspoon gives the receiver a thump) and finally, DT Kobie Turner splits the guard and tackle and bursts through for a sack. Rams 31, Cardinals 8.
The Rams clear the bench and Arizona marches 75 yards for the score. CB Tre’Vius Hodges- Tomlinson gave up two completions, one for the score, but actually had tight coverage on both. Rams 37, Cardinals 14.
Another stat-padding drive against the backups. The only thing remarkable was that the Rams pass rush, even with four backups was able to put enough pressure to force QB Murray and Cardinals to work underneath. Rams win 37-14.
Nothing but accolades this week
The Rams defensive line did a stellar job of pushing the pocket straight back, but keep the cup integrity. Kyler Murray, because of his size, is the type of quarterback who likes to get outside where he can see the field better and run to the sideline. He has never liked to mix it up in traffic and to stop him, you have to be disciplined and not get your edges pinned inside. L.A. did a good job of it. I saw Aaron Donald playing a spy role on quite a few plays in the first half.
With Murray contained in the pocket, the Cards stayed with the short passing game. The Rams countered by some man coverage, a very aggressive matchup zone and a physical style they hadn’t shown before. Arizona seemed content to stay with the game plan and never really did much to try and force the Rams into a different look. After the first drive, they went away from the run game and only logged 15 carries for the game. Murray had only one carry.
It was a welcome sight to see a deep rotation on the defensive line and they all did a solid job. Aaron Donald appeared to be playing a supporting role, lining up in BOSS (big on one side) formations to lure multiple blockers and spying the Arizona quarterback. At least twice, he spied from behind the rush, reading Kyler Murray and bursting through for the knockdown. Kobie Turner stacked another good game with two sacks and Bobby Brown didn’t play a lot of snaps but looked more aggressive than he has in the past.
As I said earlier this week...Kobie Turner flashes on tape every single game. Today is no different. Another sack for the rookie to give him his second of the day.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) November 26, 2023
Let the young guys cook!
The youngsters showed out as well. Desjaun Johnson played some meaningful snaps early and eventually got a sack. Ochaun Mathis almost joined him, but QB Murray ducked under him.
As previously mentioned, the coverage was aggressive and sticky. Some really good hitting. Jordan Fuller really broke well on the ball and timed up passes. Ahkello Witherspoon plays that trail position, which can make fans cringe, but he has the speed and length to make it work. His injury history has not been an issue, a solid veteran pickup.
Of the young secondary, Jason Taylor came off the Injured Reserve List for 25 defensive and 21 special teams snaps. Hodges-Tomlinson might have appeared to be having a tough go, but he was very sticky in coverage and had good position on each challenge. The deep pass to Marquise Brown was well underthrown and THT still kept in contact, it was a pro’s push off and catch. The same on the touchdown, great position and fight, just lost on terrific one-handed grab. The penalty was one of those collisions that used to be a no-call, he’ll have to learn to navigate that stuff by playing. I was more impressed by how he reacted to the ball, snagged it and took off for the goal line.
Next week will be another test of wills. The Cleveland Browns will play a tough brand of football and even with a crippled offense, won’t allow the Rams offense much more than the minimum. If the L.A. defense can match the Brownies physicality, and just maybe, force a turnover or create a big play or two, the Rams can score enough to chalk up their third win in a row.