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2017 Regular Season
Preview: Rams & Cards

Setting the Stage:
Rams are on the upswing/Cards are on the downswing. In their first meeting in London, the Rams shut out the Cardinals in dominant fashion, 33 - 0. Rams are 8 & 3 and atop the NFC West and coming off a win vs the Saints. Cards are 5 & 6 and barely still in the playoff hunt. In their last outing, the Big Red edged Jacksonville on Dawson's 57-yd game winning field goal with 0:04 to play.l

LA's Last Game
They beat NO 26 - 20.

Jared Goff posted a 28-for-43, 354-yard performance, though acknowledging that the Rams' 'D' deserved the bulk of the credit.

According to Goff: "The best thing was the pass rush -- they got to Drew early and kept the pressure on."

Continually under pressure, Brees was sacked three times, hit repeatedly and unable to dig New Orleans out of an early 10-0 hole.

That the 8 & 3 Rams were aggressive on offense was no surprise; but they were equally proactive on defense (Fast starts have been a recurring theme for the Wade Phillips "D."

"We just started off on a roll," said Rams DT Aaron Donald (one sack, five tackles - 2 for a loss)." "We did a great job of not letting [Drew] get comfortable.

Rams didn't force any turnovers but they did limit the Saints to 14 first downs and only converting 10 of 13 third downs). They had big games from Alec Ogletree (seven tackles, one pass defensed), Trumaine Johnson (six tackles, one pass defensed), Mark Barron (five tackles) and Robert Quinn (five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble).

Things continue to look up for the Rams, who rebounded the fromprevious week's 24-7 defeat by the Vikings and remain a game ahead of Seattle in the NFC West.

First Quarter
Rams received and Cooper returned the opening KO to the LA 41. Consecutive gains of +24, +4, +1, +11, +9 and +5 yds set up a 5-yd Goff-to-Watkins scoring pass. . Rams 7 - Saints 0.

TB on KO. After Brees hit Thomas for +24 yds, rhe Saints moved past midfield only to have Donald and Quinn sack Brees on two consecutive downs, Punt was fair caught at the Ram 17. Goff survived a minus-7 yd sack to put together an 11 play drive ending with a 50-yd Zuerlein FG. Rams 10 - Saints 0.

TB on KO. Two plays later Kamara zipped thru RG en route to a 74-yd TD. Rams 10 - Saints 7.

Rams returned the KO to their own 31 and were held to 3 & out. Pint was O-O-B at the NO 19 . Saints picked up 7 yards on the ground to end the quarter. Rams 10 - Saints 7.

First Quarter Score: Rams 10 - Saints 7.

Second Quarter
Saints couldn't get anywhere and punted from theirown 28. Punt was O=O-B at the Ram 12. A 31-yd pass to Gurley moved LA out to their own 35 but their drive fizzled and they punted from their own 39. Fair catch - NO 11. Six plays later, the Saints punted from their own 31. Punt (net penalty on Rams) returned to Ram 14. A 53-yd deep-left pass from Goff to Kupp set up a Goff-to Reynolds 7-yd TD pass to end an 8-play drive. Rams 17 - Saints 7.

TB on KO. Saints held to 3 & out. Punt (O-O-B net roughness penalty on LA gave Rams the ball at their own 20. They reached their own 19 in 5 plays as the quarter ended.

1st Half Score: Rams 17 - Saints 10

Third Quarter
NO received - TB on KO. No punted from their own 33. Punt returned to LA 49. LA held to 3 & out and punted from their own 49.Fair catch: NO 9.Saints picked up one 1st down but were forced to punt from their own 23. Return (net penalty on LA) gave LA the ball on their own 13. A 48-yd defensive PI penalty set up a 46-yd Zuerlein FG. Rams 20 - Saints 10.

TB on KO. Rams held NO to 3 & out. Punt O-O-B at the Ram 20. A face mask flag put the ball oh the NO 34 to end the 3Q.

Third Quarter Score: Rams 20 - Saints 10

Fourth Quarter
Rams ball at the NO 34. Zuerlein's 49-yd FG try was good. Rams 23 - Saints 10.

TB on KO. Brees put together a 10-play (4:06) drive but had to settle for a 21-yd Lutz FG. Rams 23 - Saints 13.

KO returned to LA 20. On the 5th play of the Ram possession, Goff's deep left pass for Watkins was intercepted by P Williams and run out of bounds at the NO 19. 8:31 left. NO held to 3 & out.Punt fair caught at the Ram 25. Rams then ran off 13 plays (5:28) with Zuerlein booting a 26 yd FG. Rams 26 - Saints 13.

TB on KO. Play Sequence: Brees to Ginn for +15 yds...Inc....Brees to Kamara for +9 yds...Brees to Thomas for +10 yds...Brees to Ginn for +11 yds...Brees to Ginn for +25 yds...Brees to Kamara (short right) for +15 and a TD. Rams 26 - Saints 20.

1:45 left. Onside Kick. Rams recovered. Three knees, Game over.

Final Score: Rams 26 - Saints 20

Key Game Stats

Passing - Goff was 28 of 43 - 354 yds, 2 TD'a and 1 interception. (Brees: 22 of 32 for 246 yds, 1 TD, 0 Ints).

Rushing -- Gurley ran for 74 yds on 17 carries. (Kamara carried 5 times for 87 yds. (Saints runners gained 123 yds on 17 carries)

Receiving - Kupp caught 8 passes for 116 yards.Watkins, Gurley and Reynolds caught 4 passes apiece.

Tackles - Ogletree ked wiith 7 tackles. T Johnson had 6. Three others had 5.

Sacks - 3. Ebukam, Quinn and Donald had one apiece.

3rd Down Conversions -LA converted 3 of 14 (21%) Saints converted 3 of 13.

Rushing Avg - LA averaged 3.5 ypc rushing. (They gave up 7.2 ypc)

Net Punting Average - LA was 46.0. (vs. 44.6 for NO).

Penalties - LA was penalized 9 times (NO was flagged7 times)

Red Zone Efficiency - TB was 2/4 = 50% i (vs. 0/1 = 0% for NO).

Turnover Ratio: Minus-1.. (Goff threw one pick/ Brees threw no picks. Neither team lost a fumble).

Rams Stats to Date

First Downs - LA 222 / Opponents 197

3rd Down Conversions - LA 66/151 / Opponents 58/154

Passing YPA- LA 5.9 / Opponents 5.4

Rushing YPC - LA 4.1/ Opponents 4.7

Sacks - LA 31 / Opponents 19

Field Goals - LA 32/34/ Opponents 14/23

Time of Possession - LA 30:23 / Opponents 29:37

Turnover Ratio +5

Analysis
Rams roll up more first downs than their opponents. They hold an edge in 3rd down conversions. If there's one possible weakness, it's that their opponents gain more rushing yards per attempt than they do. Where the Rams really shine is in (a) # of sacks, number of field goals attempted and made and (b) turnovers.

Key Player Stats

Passing:
Goff: 223 of 361 for 2,964 yds. 61.8%. 8.2 YPA..1.8 TD's.... 5 Int.... 98.6

Rushing:
Gurley: 204 for 865 yds...4.2 YPC...8TD's.
Austin: 41 for 188...4.6 YPC.1TD
M Brown: 37 for 138. 3,7 YPC 1TD

Receiving:
Woods: 47 for 703, 15.0 YPR. 4TD
Kupp: 46 for 597. 13.0 YPR. 3TD
Gurley: 42 for 579. 11.4 YPR. 3TD.
Watkins: 28 for 490. 17.5 YPR. 5 TD's.
Higbee: 21 for 262. 12.5. 1 TD
Everett: 20 for 215. 21.5 YPR. 1TD

Field Goals -
Zuerlein: 32/34
Opponents: 14/23

Punting
Hekker: 46.9 Avg (24 inside 20 or TB)
Opponents: 44.8 (22 Inside 20 or TB)

Punt Returns
Cooper: 12.1 YPR. 0TD
Austin: 4.4 YPR. 0TD

Kickoff Returns -
Cooper: 329.7 YPR. 1TD

Tackles - LA -
Barron (64)...Ogletree (76). T Johnson (49). ..Brockers (43). J Johnson (41)

Sacks - (LA: 31 (Opponents 19)
Donald (6). Barwin (4). Longacre (4). Quinn (3.5). Brockers (3)

Interceptions - LA 12 (vs. Opponents' 5)
Barron (3), Johnson (2), Joyner (2), Robey-Coleman (2)

Rosters/Match-ups
When you check out the Ram depth chart, the one thing that leaps out at you is that the same players we faced in London - on offense, defense or special teams - are still on the active roster (i.e. virtually no injuries, promotions or demotions)

Ram Offense

WR...11 Austin...........10 Cooper......88 M Thomas
TE.....89 Higbee.........81 Everett
LT.....77 Whitworth.....73 Lucas
LG    76 Saffold    
OC    65 Sullivan ......66 Blythe
RG....68 J Brown.
RT    79 Havenstein..63 D Williams
WR  .12 Watkins......83 Reynolds                   
WR ..17 Woods.......18 Kupp
QB ..16 Goff............14 Mannion......08 Allen
RB....30 Gurley III....34 M Brown.....33 J Davis...25 Dunbar

Cardinal Defense

LDE      97 Mauro..........72 Pierre..............94 X Williams
DT        98 Peters .........95 Gunter                
DT        92 Rucker.........90 Nkemdiche
SLB     55 C Jones........54 Albright           
ILB       20 Bucannon....58 Wright............50 G Martin 
ILB       56 Dansby........57 Bynes       
WLB    43 Reddick.......96 K Martin
LCB     21 Peterson.....26 B Williams              
RCB    25 T Williams...28 Bethel.          
SS       36 Baker..........30 Ford
FS       32 Mathieu ......41 Bethea

Matchup: Ram Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Cards will have to deal with multiple threats. Ram offense has elevated itself to become a force to be reckoned with. Goff has matured into a solid fixture at QB. Austin, Cooper, Watkins, Woods and Kupp have all become formidable receiving factors. TE's Higbee and Everett have been nicely incorporated into the Ram passing offense. And don't forget, boys and girls - Gurley can catch out of the backfield.

We couldn't call it a "strength", but Ram pass blockers have allowed a respectable 19 sacks thus far this season. Cardinals don't have Markus Golden to rush the QB, which in turn, has allowed opposing teams to focus more on opposite bookend, Chandler Jones. (Despite all the extra attention, it has slowed down #55 all that much. What it has done is force James Bettcher to find other more exotic ways to replace Golden as a pass rush presence).

Cardinal pass coverage crew has had its good and not so good moments (i.e. consistency remains an issue). They're going to need "all hands on board" to handle the Rams' multiple receiving threats, but - for all the attention devoted to bolstering the Cardinal secondary, they're barely OK at #2 CB (opposite Peterson) and thin everywhere else.

On a more positive note at safety. Tyrann Mathieu looked like the Honey Badger of Old last week vs. the Jags and #2 draft pick Budda Baker is emerging as a future Cardinal star.

Key Matchups: Multiple LA Receivers vs. Cardinal Secondary. C Jones vs. Whitworth

Matchup: Ram Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Gurley is only 135 yards away from breaking 1,000-yards for the season. As they did vs. Jacksonville, the Cards must make "stopping Gurley" their #1 priority.

Cards have shown in the past that "they can do it." They just have to want to play hard and play smart to protect all the lanes and bottle up Gurley.

LA can either go smashmouth or they can "go multiple in the receiving game." Our guess is that LA "takes what the Card defense gives them."

Key Matchups: Gurley vs. Bynes. Ram OL vs. Mauro, Gunter and Nkemdiche


Cardinal Offense

WR1    11 Fitzgerald......14 Nelson.........16 C Williams.....19 Agudosi
LT        68 Veldheer.........69 Holden              
LG       75 Boone                    
C         53 Shipley...........70 Boehm.........79 Tuerk       
RG       74 Watford.    
RT........73 Wetzel...........69 Holden
TE       .87 Niklas...........86 Seals-Jones
WR2   .13 Ja Brown......12 Jo Brown.....10 Golden     
QB       07 Gabbert.........05 Stanton.......09 Barkley
RB       23 A Peterson....33 K Williams....35 Penny.....37 Foster
TE        84 Gresham

Ram Defense

DE......93 Westbrooks.......97 Fox
NT.......90 Brockers...........95 T Walker
DT.......99 Donald..............92 Smart
OLB....94 Quinn................96 Longacre..............51 Price
OLB...98 Barwin...............50 Ebukam
ILB.....52 Ogletree............54 Hager
ILB...,,26 Barron...............58 Littleton
LCB....22 T Johnson........23 Robey-Coleman
RCB...21 K Webster.........36 Hatfield................32 T Hill
SS .....43 J Johnson III.....24 Countess
FS......20 Joyner...............41 Christian

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Ram Pass Defense
Ram pass rushers have racked up 31 sacks. Their cover guys posted twice as many interceptions as their opponents. Rams play a physical, smashmouth brand of defense. Let's start from there.

While injuries to Carson Palmer and then Drew Stanton weren't helpful, #3 QB Blaine Gabbert has brought new features (some good/some not-so-good) to the Cardinal offense - Among the assets are "poise under fire", pinpoint short accuracy and, boys & girls, he can beat you with his feet. He still has some rust to shake off and a few bad habits (like lackadaisical ball-protection) to shake off. But all in all, he proved he could lead his team to victory vs. a top-rated Jacksonville defensed, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

Gabbert is still getting used to his receivers who, in turn, haven't been as sure-handed as they were thought to be entering the season. While Fitz remains a mainstay and TE Ricky Seals-Jones is emerging as a reiiable receiving target, the 2 Browns and JJ Nelson have been, at best, a 50-50 proposition to hang onto catchable balls. Add to this, the absence of a RB as a reliable 3rd down threat and it's put pressure on the remainder of the Cardinal passing attack. (Note - Keep an eye on Adrian Peterson, who - despite not having Velcro hands - is being factored more and more into the Cardinal passing game).

Ram pass rush is lethal. It will be up to a revolving-door Cardinal offensive line to at least neutralize Ram pass rushers if for no other reasons than to keep Gabbert safe and upright. Brightest hope for

Key Matchups: Gabbert vs. Ram secondary. Fitz vs. T Johnson. Seals-Jones vs. Joyner. JA Brown vs. K Webster

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Buc Run Defense
Adrian Peterson came into the 1st Ram game with high expectation. The Rams stopped him in his tracks. What seems to be quite evident is that, if a defense wants to stop AP, they can do so - but at what cost to the rest of the defense?

What we're expecting is tension among Ram defenders between (1) stopping Peterson or (2) containing Cardinal TE's (more likely to be Seals-Jones than Gresham or Niklas).

As we've always said - in good times for RB's and for bad - we need to hand the leather to Peterson at least 20 times and get him even more involved in the offense if for no other reason than it will keep the Ram pass rush honest (& Gabbert safer).

Approaching the first Ram game, we thought an effective Cardinal strategy would be to stay away from interior defenders like Brockers and Donald and attack the perimeter. Didn't work. This time, we might be better off with a more balanced approach to the run game.

Key Matchups: Peterson and Card O-line vs. Donald and Brockers (inside) and Barwin, Quinn, Ogletree and Barron (outside)

Special Teams

Tampa Bay

K         04 Zeurlein                 
P         06 Hekker                     
H         06 Hekker
LS      .44 McQuaid              
KR      10 Cooper
PR      10 Cooper

Cardinals

K          04 Dawson                      
P          02 Lee                                   
H          02 Lee                       
LS        49 Drescher                              
KR       33 K Williams       
PR       33 K Williams

Matchup: LA Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Hecker is solid.Zeurlein is "money." Cooper poses a home run threat (Rams don't even have to use Tavon Austin).

Cards - Dawson was the deciding factor vs. Jax. Both Dawson and Lee had solid games. Williams looked livelier as a returner,

Key matchups: Cardinal coverage teams vs Cooper.

Coaching
LA- HC S McVay. OC La Fleur. DC W Phillips. ST J Fassel
. McVay took over a talented but underperforming Ram squad from Jeff Fisher and has given the team a dose of wrought-iron backbone on both sides of the ball. Rams are a solid, physical NFL team that continues to lead its division.

Cards - Before the Jacksonville game, Cardinal coaches seemed to be on the cusp of imploding. Last-second win over Jacksonville should bolster the credibility of a Cardinal coaching staff that seemed to be on somewhat shaky ground.

Medical
Cards - TBD

Bucs - TBD

How to Beat the Rams
1. Stop Gurley. 2. Cover Everybody. 3. Hurry Goff .

Last Word:
We may be facing the best football team in the NFL and will have to bring our "A" Game to all aspects of play. And even then, we may not end up on top. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, an upset of the Rams would be good medicine for an up and down team.

 


 
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