The Rams went into a matchup with the Cardinals on Sunday knowing they should win. Looking to secure their first nine-win season since 2003, expectations were high for the Rams. While they did not find as much success as their 33-0 victory over the Cardinals in London, they won without having to sweat as the clock expired. The Rams were led by some big plays on defense and special teams, with the offense being infused when needed. It was also a big day for the young offensive core, as Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett had solid games.
The Rams got off to a blazing-hot start. By the time they had scored 16 points, the Cardinals had not even amassed 10 yards of offense. This is thanks, in large part, to Blaine Gabbert’s awful start with two early interceptions. The offense took the opening kickoff right down the field for a field goal, riding two big gains. Gabbert took a deep shot on the Cardinals first play from scrimmage, and Lamarcus Joyner came down with it. Joyner also put together an excellent return to set up the offense, which quickly put points on the board by way of Jared Goff to Everett. Isolated wide right, Everett beat his man on a slant route and used his body to shield the ball.
After a Cardinals punt, Goff threw an interception on an excellent play where an outside linebacker dropped into coverage. Goff’s defense had his back, Alec Ogletree picking off Gabbert’s ensuing pass and taking it about 40 yards to house. After Ogletree’s big play, things got hairy for the rest of the half. McVay seemingly got pass-happy while calling plays and were unable to sustain drives, feeding the ball to the Cardinals. Arizona capitalized, running all over the defense and putting together two scoring drives before the end of the first half. The offense was able to tack on a field goal to go up six as time expired in the first half, but the game had a very eerie feeling.
The second half was all Rams, all the time. Sean McVay found an excellent balance of run and pass and did a great job of getting Todd Gurley involved. Set up by a great Pharoh Cooper punt return, the offense’s touchdown drive in the third quarter ended in a Sammy Watkins touchdown pass. The Rams defense found their way as well in the second half, sacking Gabbert four times and shutting down the run game. Kerwynn Williams was the defense’s worst nightmare in the first half but was nowhere to be found in the second.
After Greg Zuerlein knocked a few more field goals through, the Rams won comfortably.
Most Valuable Player – Lamarcus Joyner
Lamarcus Joyner had an excellent game at safety for the Rams. The key reason he is the Most Valuable Player from Sunday is his play early in the game. On the Cardinals very first play from scrimmage, Joyner created a turnover. From that moment forward, the momentum was his team’s to lose. He also made some excellent plays with some big hits in the passing game, breaking up passes. Joyner has a way of laying bone-crushing hits but doing so in a clean manner that avoids penalties, and that is an excellent trait of his. An example of this is when J.J. Nelson was attempting to make a leaping catch down the sideline, but Joyner crushed Nelson and made sure he was unable to get his feet in bounds.
Least Valuable Player – Tanzel Smart
Rams rookie Tanzel Smart has been in a bigger role than anticipated all season. After filling in for Donald in week one, Smart now holds down the nose tackle position since Michael Brockers moved to defensive end. Today was the first time that Smart was a noticeable liability, specifically in the run game. While the Cardinals were running all over the Rams in the first half and making it a tight game Smart was the man up front being knocked out of his gap assignment consistently. He certainly bounced back in the second half, but his first half was poor enough he still earns Least Valuable Player.
The Rams adjustments in run defense were the major turning point of the game. The Cardinals rushed for 85 yards in the first half, winning every other game all year where they run for more than 50. However, the Rams hunkered in the second half and allowed just 33 yards rushing the rest of the way. Shoutout to Wade Phillips for making excellent adjustments to shut down the run game even without Ogletree in the game. In the second half, it was the Rams against the Gabbert, and Gabbert lost that battle. With the run game neutralized the Rams were able to focus on pass defense and pass rush. The front seven converted back-to-back sacks for the second week in a row, totaling four in the half.
The Rams needed to win this game. This team is clearly a contender and has big aspirations, with those aspirations comes expectations to win games like this. While things were tough at times and the Rams certainly did not play their best football of the season, they found a way. That is what good teams do, find a way to win through adversity. The win effectively ends any hopes the Cardinals have of contending this season, thanks in part to two losses at the hands of the Rams. With the win, the Rams ensure that they will have sole possession of the division lead for another week.
The Rams face a scorching hot Eagles team next. The Eagles take on the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football this week, a good matchup for both teams. Philadelphia is playing the best football of any team in the NFL right now, make no mistake about it. In order to come out with a win next Sunday, the young team will have to play well in all phases of the game. Getting pressure on Carson Wentz and finishing sacks is an early key to victory, more to come this week. The Eagles also feature one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, so it will be important for Sean McVay to be an effective playcaller. Rams fans should be excited, and a little nervous, about the upcoming showdown of young star quarterbacks.
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