The Rams’ ninth win of the 2017 season was the epitome of a team win with an abundance of great individual performances. With that, I’m going to do things a little different this week and talk about all of the Los Angeles Rams players that deserved the “A” grade against the Cardinals. This isn’t to say that anyone not listed did not play well, these are just the ones whose performances impacted the game most in favor of the Rams and not just with one single play.
You’ll notice that the list consists of players from the offense, defense, and special teams. The balance this team possesses shows how the new coaching staff was able to turn things around so fast in their first season, with the exception of special teams Coach John Fassel who continues to prove he is the best special teams coach in the NFL.
Todd Gurley – Through the air, on the ground, it doesn’t matter when Gurley gets over 120 yards from scrimmage. Gurley totaled 158 yards from scrimmage against the Cardinals, making that his seventh game this season doing so. The Rams are 6-1 in such games, with their one loss coming back in week two against Washington. With a secondary that boasts All-Pro Patrick Peterson, it’s crucial in games like these that Gurley can be used as a weapon in the passing game. Seeing seven targets on Sunday, most by any player on the Rams team, Gurley opens up the offense and keeps defenses vulnerable and on their heels. That is something that can be the difference between a win and loss during an important stretch of the season.
Aaron Donald – Seeing Donald on a list of players that impact the team the most in a win is nothing new, and quite honestly, if there were a list with him not on it I’d expect he didn’t play that week. Donald kept his presence felt throughout the whole game against the Cardinals, generating two quarterback sacks and pushing the pocket constantly. One of his sacks resulted in a punt the very next play, while the other put the Cardinals in a third & 23 situation with less than six minutes left to play in the game, down by 13.
Offensive Line – I originally wanted to highlight the individual performances of a couple of offensive linemen, but with the overall play of the unit over the course of the whole game it would be wrong to exclude anyone. These guys kept their quarterback clean on all but one play and the confidence they instill in quarterback Jared Goff shows when he hangs in there and delivers the throws Rams teams and fans aren’t quite accustomed to, yet. They were also opening up lanes in the run game as well as the screen game, shown by the play where left guard Rodger Saffold basically walked running back Todd Gurley 23 yards to the Cardinals’ 37-yard line. It’s games like these that really show the importance of an offensive line can bring to a team.
Lamarcus Joyner – One of the most consistent players for the Rams has been safety Lamarcus Joyner. He showed up, once again, with a phenomenal performance against the Cardinals. There’s something about intercepting the very first pass of the game by your opponent that gives the team a huge boost of confidence and momentum. The ensuing drive ended in a touchdown for the Rams and kept the Cardinals to one offensive play in the first seven minutes of the game. He also broke up a pass intended for Jermaine Gresham with a big hit late in the third quarter that turned a 21-yard completion on the first play of the drive into a second & 10 from the Cardinals’ own 18-yard line.
Pharoh Cooper – Cooper, who has been giving the Rams’ offense free yards for weeks, did so even more against the Cardinals. He fielded four punts and averaged 15 yards per return, with one of them going for 30 yards and putting the Rams offense within 10 yards of the redzone before even hitting the field. The drive ultimately ended with a touchdown and brought the lead to 13. Without even fielding a punt until week six, Cooper has combined his return yards between punts and kickoffs for 1,012 yards with four games to go. Those yards are only 279 less than the 1,291 the entire team had on returns in 2016, 328 of which Cooper contributed.
Johnny Hekker – Hekker would have been eligible for this list had one great play met the criteria, instead, he all but eliminated one of the greatest players in the NFL in Patrick Peterson by having only 12 return yards off of his four total punts. The biggest one being when he punted 70 yards from the Rams 9-yard line to the Cardinals’ 21. Not only was the distance impressive, Hekker actually faked which direction he was kicking and booted it left, adding to the difficulty of returning one of his punts. Right after the punt, Peterson ran right up to Hekker and joked with him about it, that tells you all you need to know about the respect he has earned across the league, despite the lack of appreciation that usually comes with the position.
Yet Another A
Greg Zuerlein – I almost had to leave Zurlein off the list seeing how he missed his first extra point of the season, but with my guidelines set at impacting the game the most in favor of the Rams, he had to be on it. Zuerlein added another four field goals on Sunday, increasing his league-leading 36 to seven more than any other placekicker. He contributed 13 points to the Rams’ score and in a 16-point game, things could have been different had he not been on.
With so many worthy performances by the team as a whole, it’s easy to see why the Rams are taking the league by storm and having their best season since 2003, so far. When one player struggles, two more step up and make plays. Bryce Hager deserves an honorable mention for his role filling in for Alec Ogletree on a moment’s notice. He played a great game probably deserves a spot on the list with him making plays in both the pass and run game, including a pass defended. With the Eagles coming to town, the Rams will need just as many, if not more, players on this list come next week.
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