Setting the Stage:
Rams are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Cards are often rated #32 of the thirty-two NFL teams. Rams are 11 & 3, coming off a 30 - 23 loss to the Eagles. They're playing for a favorable playoff bye position. 3 & 11 Cards are playing out the final 2 games of the season with coaching and roster jobs on the line.
All indicators point to a shellacking of the Cardinals by the Rams this Sunday.
Ram's Last Game
They lost to Philly 30 -23. Game was tied 13 - 13 at halftime but Eagles pasted 17 unanswered points in the third quarter and hung on in the fourth to preserve the win.
Key Plays Log (Read bottom to top)
11:39 p.m. — Final: Eagles 30, Rams 23.
11:32 p.m. — No good. Jake Elliott misses from 53 and the Rams still have life.
11:26 p.m. — Fumble! JoJo Natson fumbles the punt. The Eagles recover. Wow.
11:25 p.m. — Now the Rams get a quick stop. They should have good field position after this punt.
11:18 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Rams. Here they come. Gurley scores. 30-23, Eagles.
11:12 p.m. — The Rams have the ball again, but they're running out of time. Just over four minutes on the clock.
10:57 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Rams. Goff missed several throws in the red zone, but Los Angeles does cut into its deficit. 30-16, Eagles.
10:49 p.m. — Interception. Aqib Talib picks off Foles.
10:45 p.m. — End of Third Quarter. Eagles 30 - Rams 13
10:40 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Eagles. Smallwood runs it in for the second time. 30-13, Eagles.
10:33 p.m. — Interception! Goff stumbles around before throwing the ball to a defensive lineman. What a bad turnover.
10:31 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Eagles. It's now a two-score game. This is pretty shocking. 23-13, Eagles.
10:14 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Eagles. Another long throw to Jeffery sets up a Smallwood run. 20-13, Eagles.
9:59 p.m. — The second half is underway.
9:45 p.m. — Halftime - 13 - 13 Tie
9:45 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Rams. The kick sails through as time expires in the half. 13-13.
9:32 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Eagles . Josh Adams gives Philadelphia the lead late in the first half. 13-10, Eagles.
9:19 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Rams. This game has stayed low-scoring with less than five minutes left in the first half. 10-6, Rams.
9:10 p.m. — Philadelphia fails to capitalize on the turnover, though, giving the ball back on a stuffed fourth-down attempt around midfield.
9:05 p.m. — Interception. The Eagles get the ball right back.
9 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Eagles. Philadelphia settles for three points. 7-6, Rams.
2nd Quarter - Rams 7 - Eagles 3
8:44 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Rams. Todd Gurley barrels into the end zone. 7-3. Rams.
8:32 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Eagles. A 52-yard kick sneaks inside the right upright. Darren Sproles set up the field goal. 3-0, Eagles.
8:25 p.m. — Philadelphia is forced into a quick punt.
8:22 p.m. — Kickoff. The Rams receive possession.
7:30 p.m. — Here are the inactives for each team.
Ram Season Player Stats
Passing: Goff - 64.5% Completions; 27 TDs; 13 Interceptions
Rushing: Gurley 1251 yds; 17 TDs.
...............M Brown 212 yds 0 TDs
Receiving: Cooks 72 Catches; 3 TDs.
..................Woods 78 Catcvhes; 5 TDs.
Ram Season Stats
Total Yds /Game - Rams 421.9 Cards 243.1
Passing Yds/Game - Rams 292.8. Cards 160.8
Ground Yds/Game - Rams 129.1 Cards 82.4
Yds Per Play - Rams 6.4 Cards 4.3
Points Per Game - Rams 32.0 Cards 13.7
Fumbles Lost/Game - Rams 0.4 Cards 0.6
Interceptions Thrown/Game - Rams 0.9 Cards 1.3
Sacks Allowed/Game - Rams 2.1 Cards 3.0
Third Down Efficiency - Rams: 42.0% Cards 30%
Time of Possession - Rams 30:09 Cards 26:30
Yards Allowed - Rams 363.1 Cards 356.4
Passing Yards Allowed - Rams 239.8 Cards 211.5
Ground Yards Allowed - Rams 123.3 Cards 144.9
Points Allowed - Rams 24.5 Cards 26.2
Fumbles Recovered - Rams 0.8 Cards 0.6
Interceptions By - Rams 1.1 Cards0.4
Sacks By - Rams 2.4 Cards 2.9
Opp 3rd Down Efficiency - Rams 39% Card 37%s
Rams in a Thumbnail
Combing the stats, I found one area (sacks) where the Cards enjoyed a slight advantage. Cards lag th the Rams in every other category. Combing the depth charts, came across another interesting factor - nearly every player who started the season on the Ram active roster is still starting. (Contrast this with the Cardinal MASH unit and the Ram advantage has to be somewhere in the "Plus-40 Points" range). The Ram roster advantage trickles down to the one-on-one matchups, where watching Ram players go up against Cardinal players is tantamount to watching a 20-pound bowling bowl crash into a pile of crystal.
QB ..16 .Goff...14 Mannion
RB.....30 Gurley...34 M Brown...33 J Davis...42 J Kelly
WR1.....12 Cooks...19 Natson
WR2 ...17 Woods...83 Reynolds
WR3....18 Kupp.....11 Hodge
TE......89 Higbee...81 Everett...82 Mundt
LT........77 Whitworth...70 Noteboom
LG .. 76 Saffold
OC ..65 Sullivan...55 B Allen
RT ..79 Havenstein
Defensive Interior Line
DE - 44 Golden, 91 Mayowa, 94 Malveaux
DT - 98 Peters, 96 Valentine
DT - 95 Gunter
DE- 55 C Jones, 56 Z Moore, 54 Dora
SAM - 43 Reddick, 92 Gardeck
MLB - 51 Hodges, 47 Turner
WILL - 20 Bucannon, 59 Walker
LCB - 21 Peterson, 26 B Williams, 25 C Jones
RCB - 38 Amerson, 27 L Johnson, 39 Nichols
SS - 36 Baker, 30 Ford
FS - 41 Bethea, 38 Boston, 40 Tillman*
Matchup: Ram Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
One writer gave Jared Goff gets a failing grade last week. Goff was missing open receivers and making bone-headed decisions in the pocket, like the interception he threw after tripping over John Sullivan. It’s difficult to say exactly what Goff’s issue has been these last three weeks, but it starts with his footwork and decision-making.
Josh Reynolds’ stat line doesn’t look great (catching just five of 12 targets for 70 yards), but four of those incompletions came on passes that were uncatchable . Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were effective with 74 and 59 yards, respectively, catching 81 percent of the passes that came their way. Most of TE Gerald Everett’s damage came on the Rams’ final drive when he caught three passes for 19 yards...Tyler Higbee caught both of his targets but for just 14 total yards.
Rams’ offensive line has not been very good in recent weeks. John Sullivan was bullied by Fletcher Cox, Rob Havenstein had some trouble with Michael Bennett and the interior pressure was too much for Goff to handle.
While it's true Patrick Peterson accounts for half the CB duties for the Cards, but it leaves 75% of Cardinal coverage responsibilities up for grabs. Cards continue to play musical chairs at #2 CB. Their most recent transactions: Released CBs Dontae Johnson and Quinten Rollins and LB Jonathan Anderson. Promoted CBs Deatrick Nichols and Chris Jones from the PS. Signed CB Jonathan Moxie to the PS.
To us, Goff has filled the role as prime technician and game manager who - when you make a mistake - will make you pay. Like Rivers, Ryan before him, Goff will pick you apart if you let him. Ram pass pro has been a big vulnerable of late, which may offer opportunities to C Jones, M Golden and a number of "surprise" blitzers hitting the open gaps.
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Cooks. Benwikere and Taylor vs. Cooper and Kupp. Bucannon vs. Gurley. Nkemdiche vs. Ram interiro O-line..
Matchup: Ram Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
In the Eagle game - despite suffering a knee injury that clearly hindered him in the second half - Gurley put forth a gutsy effort to stay in the game and remain relatively effective. He finished with 12 carries for 48 yards and 10 catches for 76 yards. He also added two touchdowns on the ground.
Cardinals have demonstrated that they can stop opposing runners (when they want to), but the effort has been spotty and run-defense has been vulnerable of late.
Key Matchups: Bynes vs. Gurley in the run game.
03 Rosen, 07 Glennon
23 D Johnson, 29 Edmonds, 22 Logan, 32 Coleman
WR - 11 Fitzgerald,16 Sherfield, 17 Tolliver
WR - 16 C Williams, 14 Nelson,
TE1 - 86 Seals-Jones, 84 Gresham, 82 Phillips, 81 Daniels
LT- 79 Cunningham, 75 Golditch
LG - 78 Gossett
OC- 64 Cole, 62 Munyer
RG- 70 Aboushi, 63 Odhiambo
RT -60 Barksdale, 69 Holden
Defensive Interior Line
DE........90 Brockers...94 Franklin-Myers
NT........93 .Suh...92 Smart...69 Joseph-Day
DT........99 .Donald...95 Westbrooks
WIL......98 Longacre...49 T Young
OLB....50 Ebukam...53 Lawler
ILB......58 Littleton...54 Hager...59 Kiser
ILB......26 Barron...52 R Wilson
LCB.....22 .M Peters...32 T Hill....36 Hatfield
RCB.....37 Shields...23 Robey-Coleman
SS ......43 J Johnson III...24 Countess
FS.......20 Joyner...41 M Christian
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Ram Pass Defense
Josh Rosen continues to play like a promising rookie, flashing some ability but not flashing enough to impress fans. Co-conspirators include: an offensive line loaded with backups and a depleted WR consisting of Larry Fitzgerald and a bunch of other guys. For Rosen, this has fostered a "Snap Then Duck" environment that's made the rookie QB look worse than he really is.
Last week, Ram pass rushersonly hit Nick Foles three times and didn’t have a single sack (Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were both shut out. (Donald’s been held without a sack or tackle for loss for the second straight week and Suh has become a disappointment).
Take away Aqib Talib’s clutch interception and Ram CB's get a much lower grade. (Talib was picked on by Foles and Alshon Jeffery).
Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman.were slightly better and didn’t have any real lapses in coverage, John Johnson is an absolute stud - He broke up a would-be touchdown, made two key third-down stops and led the team with 14 tackles. Lamarcus Joyner also had a solid performance (other than inexplicably allowing two receivers to get behind him for a 50-yard gain). Johnson is the real star of the show for L.A., though.
Fitzgerals vs Talib...Sherfield vs. Peters....Ram DL (Brockers, Donald, Suh) vs.(uh!) Cardinal O-line
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Ram Run Defense
Let's put it this way - Running the ball is not a Cardinal strong suit. Wilks contininues to insist that Cards will try even harder to get David Johnson the ball (but when they tally up the numbers at the end of each game, David never seems to have gotten enough touches. Last week, one of the FOX anncrs observed that the Cards might have more success with Johnson running outside than they've had between the tackles. Each week, Chase Edmonds seems to get more and more work - he's smaller than DJ but a bit quicker - both he and DJ seem to be most effective inside when they run lower to the ground,
Michael Brockers was washed out a lot against the run, last week, struggling to plug up holes and make key stops. The defensive line will have to be better as the Rams look forward to the playoffs. Cory Littleton still wasn’t great on Sunday; being caught guessing, leaving big holes for running backs, and struggling getting off blocks.
At the deeper level, Mark Barron wasn’t any better, though he did provide slightly better coverage It may be time to give Ramik Wilson or Micah Kiser some playing time. Dante Fowler Jr.'s snaps were limited - he had just two tackles and didn’t hit Foles once. Samson Ebukam wasn’t any better, making just three tackle assists all game long. If Donald is going to be doubled inside, someone on the edge has to win one-on-one matchups.
Hmmm. A weak Cardinal running attack facing a bundle of very angry Ram defenders. Hmmm.
D Johnson vs. Ram DL. Card RBs vs. J Johnson
Ram Special Teams
K 04 Zuerlein
P 06 Hekker
H 06 Hekker
LS 44 McQuaide
KR .19 Natson
PR .19 Natson
Cardinals Special Teams
P - 02 Lee
K- .05 Gonzalez
H - 02 Lee
LS -46 Brewer
KR - 22 Logan
PR - 14 Nelson
Matchup: Ram Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Last week JoJo Natson’s fumbled punt return didn’t cost the Rams the game, but it didn't help. Johnny Hekker nearly completed a pass for a first down and averaged 56.3 yards per punt, but none of the punts pinned Philly inside the 20. Greg Zuerlein was steady, as usual.
Congrats to Andy Lee for being named alternate to the Pro Bowl. Gonzalez has the leg; he just needs to calm down a little and become a bit more consistent. Maybe this week , Card fans will get a chance to see what Logan can do (It makes no sense to risk injury by continue using Patrick Peterson on punt returns).
Sean McVay (hired 2017 as the youngest coach in modern NFL history), seems to have settled in nicely as the Rams added additional pieces to the puzzle during the course of the past year.
Steve Wilks is on very shaky ground taking a pretty good football team and leading it to a 3 & 11 record. Common criticism - He's tried to shoe-horn talented players with unique skill-sets into rigid cookie cutter roles. Hasn't worked
How to Beat the Rams
Stop Gurley. Don't try to out-guess Rams on either side of the ball. Play sound position-based, error-free football and make the Rams beat us instead of our beating ourselves. Protect Rosen (from error-prone rookie cast and from himself). Go to a quick, short-pass offense mixed in with a half-dozen deep shots.
With playoff bye positions on the line, Rams should be well-motivated. Card players and coaches (& GM?) will be evaluated, in part, on the basis of "effort against a better-motivated, more talented opposing team."
This ain't rocket science ladies & gents.