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2016 Regular Season
Preview: Cards @ Rams

Setting the Stage:
Rams allowed SF to stage a late comeback and succumbed to the heroics of Colin Kaepernick and a 2-pt conversion on the final Niner TD to lose a squeaker to SF 22 - 21. Meanwhile in Seattle, the Cards built a 14 - 0 lead on the road over the division-leading Seahawks and held them at bay just enough for Catanzaro to kick a game-winning FG as time ran out.
The Cards have to be feeling pretty good about themselves despite the lack of playoff significance. Ram fans have to be shaking their head. Rams are still trying to establish themselves in LA and recently fired long-time HC Jeff Fisher. It's hard to say whether Rams will "play for pride" or mail it in. The same could be said about the Cardinals, though at least they don't have to face the continued uncertainty of settling into a new city under the leadership of a young QB & under the supervision of a new head coach.

(Note - This game might best be compared to the 4th game of preseason - when coaches take a hard look at their teams' backups).

Opponent's Last Game
Niners overcame a 21 - 14 Fourth quarter deficit to edge the Rams 22 - 21. All the scoring was in the first and fourth quarters.

First Quarter
Niners received. KO returned to SF 21. They managed to move just just short of midfield before punting. Punt (net holding flag) put the ball on the LA 13. A Goff to Britt 15-yd completion converted a 3rd & 6 but on the next play, Goff's pass for Britt was intercepted and returned to the LA 17. Two plays later, eapernick hit Hyde for a 19-yd TD.
Niners 7 - Rams 0

P Cooper retrurned the ensuing KO to the LA 48. Goff engineered a 9-play (4:54) drive ending in a one-yd TD run up the middle by Gurley. Niners 7 - Rams 7.

TB on the KO. On the 3rd play of the Niner possession, Kaepernick's pass for Celek was intercepted by C Davis. On the first play from scrimmage, T Austin ran it in around left end for a TD... Rams 14 - Niners 7.

KO returned to the Niner 21 SF managed to move to their own 38 as the quarter ended..

First Quarter Score: Rams 14 - Niners 7.

Second Quarter
Niners moved to their own 48 before Pinion had to punt. Fair caught at rhe LA 18. LA moved t their own 28 before Hekker punted. A holding penalty moved the Niners back to their own 14. LA held the Niners to 3 & out. Punt returned to the LA 35. LA held to 3 & out. Punt from LA 39 fair caught at the Niner 13 with 6:06 till halftime. Niners dinked and dunked to the LA 41 in 8 plays before Pinion punted. TB on the punt. Starting from their own 20, LA was unable to move past its own 39. Punt was fair caught at the SF 12 with 0:38 left. 3 & out followed by a kneel.

2nd Quarter Score: Rams 14 - Niners 7.

Third Quarter
Rams received. KO returned to the LA 12. Rams reached their own 32 in 8 plays before Hekker's punt went out of bounds at the Niner 15. The two teams exchanged two 3 & outs apiece. LA punt went out of ounds at the SF 25. Niners moved to their own 44 where Pinion's punt was returned to the LA 19. Rams reached their own 31 as the quarter ended.

Third Quarter Score: Rams 14 - Niners 7.

Fourth Quarter
Rams punted from their own 38. Punt returned to the Niner 34. A Niner incompletion was challeged by LA, oveturned and ruled as a fumble recovered by Fox. Rams ball on their own 25 with 12:45 left. A defensive pass interference moved the Rams to the Niner 9. Two plays later, Goff hit Higbee over the middle for a 2-yd TD. Rams 21 - Niners 7.

10:32 left. TB on the KO. Kaepernick put together a 5"26 thirteen-play TD drive ending with a 13-yd Kaepernick TD scramble. Rams 21 - Niners 14.

7 point game with 5:06 left. Niners held Rams to 3 & out. Punt fair caught at Niner 27 with 3:10 left to play. Kaepernick reached the Ram 10 in 9 plays and then hit Streater over the middle for a 10-yd Niner TD. 2-pt try was good (Kaepernick ran around right end). Niners 22 - Rams 21.

KO was returned to the Ram 42 with 0:31 left. Two plays later, Goff's pass for Quick was intercepted b R Robinson. SF took over on their own 42 and ran out the clock in four plays. .

Final Score: Niners 22 - Rams 21.

Team Stats

First Downs - Rams 236 / Opponents 304

Third Down Conversions - Rams 65/199 / Opponents 78/206

Fourth Down Conversions - Rams 7/18 / Opponents 11/12

Offensive Yards - Rams 4,080 / Opponents 5,048

Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Rams 353 (3.4 / Opponents 1,576 (3.9)

Passing Compl/Att/Int/Avg/Yds - Rams 295 of 508 (18 Int/ 6.2 ypc)/ Opponents - 356 of 541 (8 Int / 6.8 ypc)

Sacks - Rams 30 / Opponents 42

Field Goals - Rams 17 of 20 / Opponents 13 of 15

Time of Possession - Rams 29:10 / Opponents 30:50

Turnover Ratio minus-10

Key Player Stats

Passing: Goff - 99 of 185 for 2,201 yds (53.5%) Int %: 3.8%/ YPA:5.2/Sacked 19 /Rating 61.7. Keenum - 196 of 322 for 2,201 yds (60.9%). Int %: 3.4% /YPA6.8 /Sacked 23 /Rating 76.4

Rushing: Gurley - 264 for 845 yds (3.2 YPA) and 6 TD's. Austin - 26 for 157 yds (6.0 YPA)

Receiving: Britt (68 for 1,002 yds (14.7 ypr) and 5 TD's. Austin - 56 for 491 yds (8.8 ypr) and 3 TD's. Kendricks - 48 for 487 yds (10.1 ypr) . Gurley - 39 for 290 yds (7.4 ypr). Quick - 39 for 549 yds (14.1 ypr).

Field Goals - Zuerlein: 17 of 20 (2 for 4 outside the fifty)

Punting - Hekker: 47.7 gross avg

Punt Returns - Austin 41 returns for 8.4 ypr. (Opponents averaged 4.1 ypr)

Kickoff Returns - Cunningham - 22 returns for 27.2 ypr. P Cooper - 10 returns for 25.0 ypr (Opponents averaged 19.5 ypr)

Tackles - Ogletree (132), Barron (113), Joyner (66), McDonald (59)

Sacks - Donald leads the Rams with 8 sacks followed by Hayes and Quinn (4 apiece) and Easely (3.5). (Opponents outsacked the Rams 42 to 30).

Interceptions - Opponents out-intercepted the Rams 18 to 8. Ogletree and Barron lead the Rams with 2 apiece.

Fumble Recoveries - Opponents recovered 17 fumbles (Rams recovered11).

Rosters/Match-ups

Ram Offense

WR......18 Britt (A)................10 P Cooper.......08 McRoberts
TE........89 Higbee (P)...........84 Hemingway (P)
LT.........73 G Robinson (P)...72 Murphy (BA)   
LG        76 Saffold (A)..........68 J Brown (BA).....66 Arkin (P)           
OC       61 Barnes (A)...........65 Rhaney (NA)  
RG       69 Wichman (BA).....64 Donnal (BA)
RT        79 Havenstein (A)  
TE        88 Kendricks (P)                                       
WR      11 Austin (BA)....,,,,,,.83 Quick.......13 M Thomas
QB      16 Goff (P).................14 Mannion (NA) .......17 Keenum (P)

RB.......30 Gurley (BA) ..........39 M Brown (P).....34 Reynolds (BA)......36 Green (R)

PFF grades in parentheses: E = Elite. HQ = High Quality. AA = Above Average. A = Average. BA = Below Average. P = Poor. NA = No Grade Available. R = Rookie/No Info.

Cardinal Defense

DE ...93 Campbell (E)) ....72 Stinson (P)
NT ...98 Peters (A)...........69 X Williams (P).............72 Pierre (NA)
DT ...95 Gunter (P)...........92 Rucker (P) .................97 Mauro (P)....90 Nkemdiche (P)
SLB .55 C Jones (HQ)......57 Okafor (A)
ILB ..54 Moore (BA)..........52 Gooden (P)
ILB ..51 Minter (A)............58 Wright (BA)
WLB 44 Golden (AA)........96 K Martin (P)
LCB 21 Peterson (HQ).....37 Dixon.
RCB 41 Cooper (P)..........26 B Williams (P)......28 Bethel (P)
SS ..36 Swearinger (AA)..25 Bryant
FS .,34 MIller (A) .............45 Hartfeld (R
)..

PFF grades in parentheses: E = Elite. HQ = High Quality. AA = Above Average. A = Average. BA = Below Average. P = Poor. NA = No Grade Available. R = Rookie/No Info.

Late Defensive Moves: Placed Jefferson, Boggs and Mathieu on IT, added CB Dixon and S Bryant, Promoted Hartfield and Miller fr PS, added Zamort to PS

Matchup: Rams Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Rams started the season with Keenum at QB but switched to #1 draft pick Goff late in the season. Given the combination of a young rookie operating behind a sack-prone OL, throwing to an average group of receivers, it's no surprise that the Rams would opt for a conservative approach to the offense, leaning on their star RB Todd Gurley to shoulder much of the workload.

It's not that the Ram receiving corps totally lacks competence, it's just that - other than 1,000+ wideout Kenny Britt - none of their numbers jump out at you. #2 receiver, speedy Tavon Austin, has burnt us in the past but doesn't have the fear-inducing numbers expected of him in the past. #3 receiver is their TE Kendricks. They also like to throw to Gurley as their fourth option. We may see a lot of rookie Pharoh Cooper and 5th year receiver Brian Quick at this season-ender.

The Cardinal pass rush unit showed up big time in Seattle last Saturday (if partly by design to cover for a shredded secondary). The outside "pincers" (consisting of M Golden and C Jones, flanked interior guys (most notably C Campbell and Gunter) and sacked Russell Wilson 6 times.

But it was the secondary that proved to be a pleasant surprise. With Simon released, Cooper banged up and Jefferson injured early in the game, the Cards had to rely on backups Brandon Williams, Justin Bethel and newly promoted Miller (who played his first game "ever" at safety). While not 100% perfect, they played well enough to hold Wilson and his receivers at bay for most of Satiurday's game.

At least at this point of the season, the Rams aren't all that different than the Seahawks, so why defend them any differently. Expect Bettcher to pull out anything still left in his pass rush bag of tricks (no reason to keep it under wraps for the last game of the season). He'll use the pass rush to take some of the heat off his young #2 corners and Miller again (if Jefferson can't go Sunday). Expect Britt to see a lot of Patrick Peterson, with the other corners picking up the rest of the slack.

Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Britt. Other Cardinal corners vs. Austin, Quick and P Cooper. Swearinger vs. Kendrick. Gunter and Campbell vs. Saffold and Wichman. C Jones and Golden vs. G Robinson and Havenstein

Matchup: Rams Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Todd Gurley (3.2 ypc) isn't having a typical Gurley type of this year (but we know that, under the right circumstances, he can take over a game).

ILB Sio Moore has been showing up in a big fashion since being moved into the lineup. We'd expect Sio or Kevin Minter to shadow Gurley.

Logically, you might expect Interim HC John Fassell to protect his QBOF by relying more on a strong running game and a lot of quick 3-step passes. But then, again (from his Dad's short stint with the Cardinals and that this is the final game of the season) we might see Fassell open things up "to see what he's got."

Cards have been stingy against the run in most games, but - in a want-to aspect of pro football - they's sometimes let other teams smashmouth them. Challenge to Cardinal run defenders: "Do what you did in the first half of the Seattle game."

Key Matchup: Gurley vs. Minter, Moore. Gunter, Mauro and Okafor vs. Ram run blockers.


Cardinal Offense

WR1 11 Fitzgerald (AA)........10 Golden (P)...........18 Bundy (R)
LT ....74 Humphries (A))........73 Wetzel (P)
LG ...76 Iupati (A)......
C .....53 Shipley (AA).............70 Boehm (P)
RG ...78 Watford (P...............65 Boggs (P).............61 Toner (A)
RT......63 Price (R)........
TE .....85 Fells (P) .................89 Valles (P)
WR2 ..12 John Brown (A).....14 JJ Nelson (BA).....16 Ross (P)
QB ....03 Palmer (A).............05 Stanton (P)............04 Dysert (NA)
RB .....31 D Johnson (AA.....33 K Williams (BA).....38 Ellington (BA).......30 Taylor (BA)
TE .....84 Gresham (P)

PFF grades in parentheses: E = Elite. HQ = High Quality. AA = Above Average. A = Average. BA = Below Average. P = Poor. NA = No Grade Available. R = Rookie/No Info.

Ram Defense

LDE......95 Hayes................93 Westbrooks (P)......96 Longacre (P)
LDT......99 Donald (E) .........91 Easely (A)
RDT.....90 Brockers (AA).....92 C Thomas (BA)
RDE.....97 Sims (P).............70 Fox (A)
MLB ...52 Ogletree (A)........54 Hager (A).....55 Grigsby (BA)
LCB.....22 T Johnson (AA)..24 Countess (P)......32 T Hill (P)
CB .....20 Joyner (A)
RCB....33 Gaines (P)..........35 Jordan (P)      
S.........26 Barron (A)...........58 Littleton (P)
FS.......31 Alexander. (AA)...38 C Davis (BA)
SS.......25 McDonald. (A)....27 I Johnson

PFF grades in parentheses: E = Elite. HQ = High Quality. AA = Above Average. A = Average. BA = Below Average. P = Poor. NA = No Grade Available. R = Rookie/No Info.

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Bills Pass Defense
Ram defense under Fisher remained its strongpoint - most notably inside at DT where Donald leads the team with 8 sacks and Hayes, Quinn and Easely also credited with 3.5 - 4 as well. The tandem of Donald and Brockers is just about as good as it gets, and they'll be going up against the likes of Humphries (if healthy) and a young backup Price at the tackles and Iupati, Shipley and Watford inside.

In the secondary, the Rams have Barron flying around to combat the short stuff and figure to put Trumain Johnson on Fitz throughout the game. Ditto McDonald vs. our TE Gresham. It then becomes a matter of Carson Palmer quickly finding the open man (John Brown , JJ Nelson or Brittan Golden) before guys like Donald, Brockers, Ogletree and Barron find him.

Key Matchups: Brockers and Donald v. Iupati, Shipley and Watford. Humphries and Price vs. Hayes, Barron and Ogletree. T Johnson vs. Fitzgerald. McDonald vs. Gresham.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Bills Run Defense
We're not sure what we're most impressed by David Johnson - his flashes of excellence or his consistency playing at so high a level game in and game out. When the Cardinal running game is clicking, we can expect #31 to gain roughly 100 yards on the ground and nearly as many yards as a receivers. He's usually good for a couple of TD's a game as well.

With Donald and Brockers clogging up the middle, we expect the Cards to use Johnson to attack the LA perimeter with runs and screens.

We're not sure how BA will treat his young star in a "meaningless" final game of the season. He may decide not to risk any injury to a player who might be considered the Cards' most valuable investment. Should that be the case, we might get to see a bit more of Andre Ellington and definitely more of multi-talented Kerwynn Williams (maybe deep back in the Wildcat?)

Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Ogletree and Barron. Iupati and Watford vs. Alexander and Hayes

Special Teams

Rams

K          04 Zuerlein                         
P          06 Hekker                        
H          06 Hekker  
LS        44 McQuaide                              
KR       10 P Cooper                       
PR       11 Austin

Cardinals

K 07 Catanzaro
P 09 Wile
H 02 Wile
LS 46 Brewer
KR 38 Ellington
PR 12 Jn Brown

Matchup: Ram Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Ram special teams are more reliable than Cardinal special teams, but the Cards seemed to have stabilized a bit last week, with Matt Wile outpunting his Seattle opposite number and Catanzaro booting the game-winner. (Note - Wile's value as a holder might be underrated).

Zuerlein has missed 3 FGs this year (2 outside the 50 and one between 40 & 50 yds). P Cooper has taken over KR duties for LA. In Tavon Austin, the Rams have one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL.

Key matchups: Campbell and Bethel vs. Buffalo blockers. Reggie Bush vs. Cardinal coverage team.

Coaching
LA: John Fassell (Jim's kid) took over HC duties from Jeff Fisher late in the season. Interim coaching staff has a definite Cardinal flavor with Fassell and his Ass't HC Dave McGinnins (aka Coach Mac). It's unclear whether the current coaching staff will be with the Rams in 2017. This has to be rattling at least some of the LA players.

AZ: Lots of fan heat taken off BA after the win in Seattle. Question (with little tangible to play for) is: "Can they do it again?"

Last Word
Forget the hype - the Cards look like a .500 football team.
They shoulda beat NE. They beat TB. They got blown out in Buffalo. (Assuming they beat the Rams - which is far from a sure thing, that would make us .500). My reason for labeling them .500 is because they lose a game, then win a game and then lose a game. (That sure looks, walks and quacks like a .500 team).

Both players and coaches, as they should, believe the Cardinals are better than that...and still very much a playoff contender. To which I say: "Prove it." (i.e. play consistent winning football).


 
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