As Christmas waits around the corner the Arizona Cardinals get a visit from their own Krampus, the Los Angeles Rams. In their last three meetings, the Cardinals have been embarrassed by the Rams. After another demoralizing loss, this time against the Falcons, Arizona looks to play the spoiler and exact a measure of revenge to the Rams. Today we take a look at three things that need to happen for the Cardinals to play the Grinch and steal a happy Christmas from Los Angeles.
Get the Sleigh Moving
The Rams boast a formidable offensive line, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He gets help from Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers. The Rams defensive line is reliant on their big bodies inside. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is going to focus on stopping the Arizona run game. Expect stacked boxes and tight coverage on the outside. The Rams are going to dare the Cardinals to throw the football. This is where the game will be won. Whoever controls the trenches when the Cardinals are on offense will give their team the best chance to win. Arizona needs a monumental effort from the offensive line.
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As has been heavily documented over recent weeks, it is a unit which features just one remaining starter from Week 1, rookie center Mason Cole. Left tackle Joe Barksdale is currently in the league’s concussion protocol and his status is uncertain. The Cardinals don’t need the line to be extraordinary against the Rams, instead they need them to just be average. Expecting anything more is forgetting the stark difference in talent level between the two groups. Arizona’s line needs to find a way to slow down Donald. He is the linchpin of the entire defense and if the Cardinals can keep him at check, the offense will be able to move the ball on the ground.
No Gift Wrapped Presents for Rams
The Rams defense has lacked consistency in 2018. On paper they have a tremendous amount of talent. In the first matchup between the two teams, Arizona committed just one turnover, but also committed multiple offensive penalties. The start and stop manner of the offensive prevented a rhythm and resulted in punt after punt. The offensive line With rookie quarterback Josh Rosen at the helm the Rams will look to better their turnover numbers from the September battle. Rosen has the second most interceptions (14) in the league. He has forced the football under pressure and at times tried too hard to make an impact.
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Behind a porous offensive line, Rosen has been battered and bruised. Against the Rams, Rosen will need to be safe with the football. Los Angeles is third in the league with 26 takeaways behind only the Bears and Browns. Of those 26 takeaways, 15 have come from interceptions. The Rams secondary is aggressive when the ball is in the air and attempt to make a play whenever possible. The defense as a whole are filled with ball hawks who are looking to create a turnover. Los Angeles shut out the Cardinals in their first meeting of the season. Arizona must minimize their own mistakes to prevent a repeat performance.
Flurries in the Backfield
Rams quarterback, Jared Goff, put up gaudy numbers during the first half of the season. However, following the prime time shootout with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Goff and the Rams offense have struggled with consistency. Goff has been sacked 30 times in 2018, high enough to be in the upper half of the league. The Cardinals need to get pressure and hit Goff as much as possible. Arizona is ranked seventh in the league with 41 sacks. Chandler Jones is the leader for the pass rush. He has tallied 12 sacks in 2018 while no other active Cardinals player has more than three.
Expect the Rams offensive line to provide assistance to left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The veteran will be the primary opponent for Jones but will likely see help in the form of chips out of the backfield. In McVay’s offense it is not uncommon to see motion used to slow down the pass rush. Whether it is a dummy fly sweep or moving a tight end to cover the tackle, McVay will find ways to slow down Jones on the pass rush and attempt to force him into making decisions in space. Arizona will need to send pressure from Haason Reddick or one of the other second level defenders. This will put added pressure on the secondary, although the absence of Rams receiver Cooper Kupp is a big loss for Los Angeles. Persistent pressure on Goff needs to happen to continue the young quarterback’s struggles.
The Cardinals are closing their home schedule against the premiere team in the division and one of the top contenders for the Lombardi trophy. Since McVay took over as head coach, the Rams have beaten the Cardinals in three straight, and by a combined score of 99-16. The Rams have a potent offense and an opportunistic defense. Arizona features an anemic offense with an inconsistent defense. The game plan is simple for Arizona, keep the offense ahead of schedule and get points on the scoreboard, then get your own defense to put pressure on Goff and limit the big plays.
Prediction: Cardinals Lose 27-3
The Rams are nearly two touchdown favorites heading into Sunday’s divisional matchup. Los Angeles is playing for playoff positioning and hope to push back into a first round bye. The Cardinals are coming off another loss by more than three scores and what was one of their worst games of the season. In what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s last home game in an illustrious career, emotions and effort should be high for Arizona. Ultimately it isn’t enough against a superior Rams team. Cardinals fall in their home finale by a score of 27-3.