In Week 1, the Rams and Cardinals had their ears cut off by AFC fanatics. In Week 2, both teams redeemed themselves. The Rams’ offensive boat ran the Falcons through the first three quarters, which was enough to earn a victory over the 2022 belt. Arizona mounted a second-half comeback to sneak through Las Vegas. Both teams head into their first division game 1-1 and both still have a lot to learn about themselves.
The cardinals struggled to define their identity. The head coach Kingsbury Cliff seems to want it to be a thing, but his one thing didn’t work for an entire season. They also have a good sneak defense, but defensive coordinator Vincent-Joseph refuses to modernize.
The Rams offense hasn’t clicked in four quarters. Outside of Stafford at Kupp, McVay’s offense looked much more average than Championship level. So far, defensively, teams have been able to push them and the pass rush isn’t strong. All of this is compounded by injuries along the Rams offensive line and in the defensive field.
Despite those injuries, the Rams head to Arizona, a 3.5-point favorite.
Rams vs Cardinals Week 3 Key Matches
Matthew Stafford versus. Kyler Murray
These two quarterbacks can put the team on their backs and win you a game. But both can also cost you a win. Last week, Kyler Murray single-handedly orchestrated the Cardinal’s comeback against the Raiders. He threw for 277 yards and a touchdown. He only ran for 29 yards, but his runs were crucial. He ran in for a touchdown and a two-point conversion as well as several first downs, including a critical first down on a short 4th down.
In the same way, Matthew Stafford hummed the Rams offense against the Falcons in Week 2, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. But Stafford also threw two interceptions, the latter of the two giving the Falcons a comeback of their own. The comeback was thwarted, but Stafford’s weaknesses have cost the Rams wins in the past. Stafford currently leads the league with 5 steals.
For Murray, there is a direct relationship between defeat and pressure. In 2021, when Murray had 12 or more pressures in a game, the Cardinals were 2-4. The margin of victory in those two victories averaged two points. For reference, the Rams were 4-3 when Stafford suffered 12 or more pressures last season.
With Stafford, it’s less of a direct line. He doesn’t improve under pressure, but that’s not what causes his costly turnovers. Only one of the interceptions he has thrown this year has come under pressure.
But the two games he has played so far this year have been polar opposites when it comes to pressure. Stafford was under pressure in Week 1 on 38% of his back ups for a total of 19 pressures and seven sacks. Last week it was 16.2% for a total of six presses and a sack. It’s easy to see that pressure on Stafford can always cause the Rams’ offense to crumble, but that’s not what drives Stafford to turn the ball over and it seems almost impossible to diagnose what’s going on.
Stafford shoots himself in the foot on many of those interceptions, leaving the Rams hoping they and Stafford have done enough to counter the negative effects of the turnover(s). Last season, they often did enough. What helps are all the pieces around Stafford that mitigate damage. Great defense, smart coaches, and great receivers guard every game for the Rams. Stafford rarely had those things when he played in Detroit and we’ve all seen the results.
For Murray, the pressure is so much more effective on him because, unlike Stafford, he has no support system around him. The entire offense is, “Kyler, go do something.” No genius callers or Hall of Fame caliber receivers. (Until Deandre Hopkins come back. And Murray is much better with Hopkins.) Not even a stallion to share the offensive load. If a team can fire it up in the trenches and get some heat on Murray, the offense will stall. Nothing to ease the pressure on Murray.
The Rams defense according to Pro Football Reference has only accumulated nine pressures so far. It’s good for the 30th in the league. This week they will face the best offensive line they have seen so far. PFF ranks the Cardinals as the 8th best pass blocking team in the league. The Bills and Falcons are tied for 20th. Although they gave up their fair share of pressure, Kyler still managed to “do something” enough. He’s only been sacked three times, one of the lowest sack totals for a starting quarterback. So it’s not just pressure, but significant pressure that derails the Cardinals.
The Rams will need to get sacks and put the advantage to contain Murray. The Rams managed to turn their meager presses into sacks with five sacks on nine presses, but they struggled to secure the advantage. Bill quarterback, Josh Allen rushed for 56 yards and four first downs against the Rams.
For Stafford, it will simply be a matter of setting up a clean game without turnovers. The Cardinals are one of the few teams yet to intercept a pass this season, but they proved last week to be a scrappy team that will pounce when given the chance. If Stafford’s poor multi-game rotation streak continues, the Cardinals could upset the road favorite Rams.
Greg Dortch vs Which Ram Finishes Playing Nickel
The injury bug has hit the Rams secondary hard this week. Trojan Hill is on injured reserve. Decobie Durant is questionable with a hamstring and David Long was limited in practice with a groin injury. Jordan Fuller also missed practice Thursday with a hamstring injury. These three corner players account for more than 61% of the total snaps played by Rams corners this season.
In response, the Rams signed Shaun Joly off the Browns practice squad. Jolly was an undrafted free agent from Appalachia State this year. In 2019, he posted career-best numbers with five interceptions, two for touchdowns and eight passes defended.
With that amount of snaps to replace, figuring out who goes where in the secondary is a piece of shit. Assuming all injured corners will miss some if not all of Sunday’s game, the Rams are left with Derion Kendrick, Robert Rochel, Terrell Burgess, and Joly. Of those, only Rochell and Burgess have game time. Together, they’ve played 407 snaps in five seasons.
My best guess says Rochell and Kendrick take Long’s game time on the outside and Burgess covers the slot. These are two guys the Rams haven’t shown much confidence in when it comes to cornerbacking. Burgess played only a minor role in his three seasons. So far this season, he has only played on special teams. Rochell was passed by Durant when Hill was injured last week and he’s only played three snaps in defense this season.
Greg Dortch became one of Kyler Murray’s favorite targets in the first two games. All last season, he caught three assists. So far this season, he’s caught 11 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown. He walked right into that slot receiver role now that was filled by Christian Kirk. With the emergence of Dortch and Marquise Brown, the Cardinals have a wide receiver room that is difficult to contain. Atwell tutu might want to take some notes as they are both 5’8″ tall.
Brown had 10 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Add 10 catches for 89 yards of Zach Ertz, and that passing game borders on solid. the veteran AJ Green hasn’t been a big factor yet, but proved he still has a few games left, with an impressive two-point conversion grab from the back of the end zone that tied the game with the Raiders. A healthy secondary would struggle against four credible pass catchers, but of course the Rams are not healthy.
Jalen Ramsey will play a good amount of nickel snaps, but he’s mostly been used on the road this season. So covering Dortch will go to Burgess for a fair amount of downs. A good game from him will go a long way towards his career prospects, but his lack of experience could hamper the Rams.
Cardinal Pass Rush Offensive Line vs Rams Patchwork
The Rams offensive line has also been plagued with injuries. They held up well last week. But the Cardinals’ defensive line is a different animal than the Falcons. For one, the Cardinals blitz a lot, a league-high 41 blitzes, which is exactly half the setbacks they’ve faced. Buffalo did not experience the Rams and Falcons blitz at about half the rate of Arizona, 24.7%. Thus, the patchwork line of the Rams will have to withstand an onslaught of defenders.
The conundrum facing Arizona is that they have only fired the quarterback once despite 30 pressures, the second-highest pressure in the league. One would assume they would eventually pick up the bags, but that remains to be seen.
And not only more pressure, but they are under pressure from everywhere. Their best lineman is Zach Allen who is a defensive end, then the next ones are rushers Marcus Golden and Denis Gardeck. JJ Watt came with four pressures in one game after missing the first week. Even the security Budda Baker has a pair of quarterback pressures.
Of course, there are several ways to make a team pay for the blitz. One way is to run the ball efficiently when passing. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the Rams doing that. But the other is by slashing them with a quick passing game. It’s something the Rams can absolutely do, the line just needs to hold out long enough for Stafford to get through his progressions. They were able to do it in week 2, but not in week 1.
So far this year, Stafford has been very good in a blitz. Of the nine dropbacks in which he has been blitzed, Stafford has an 88.9 percent completion percentage, 9.6 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. This is a very small sample and really only reflects one game, as the Bills didn’t blitz. Looking back on last season, Stafford was still good at navigating five or more passing rushers; 75.9 completion percentage, 16 touchdowns, one interception and just three turnover-worthy plays. Sure, it’s a better sample size, 21 games, but with a very different offensive line.