Rams Seek Playoff Spot

Beat Arizona Cardinals 34-7

What a difference a week... and an opponent makes. The Los Angeles Rams jumped back into serious contention for the NFL Playoffs as they handily beat the Arizona Cardinals, 34-7. Coupled with the Minnesota Vikings 37-30 loss on Monday Night Football to the Seahawks, the Rams are only one game behind the Vikings for the final NFC Playoff spot with four games to go.

It was the Rams most complete performance of the year. The defense established the tone at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. And the offense suddenly looked as potent as it had during the past two seasons: plenty of play-action, quarterback Jared Goff completing passes downfield and the reemergence of running back Todd Gurley into the playbook.

"I think the biggest thing that I would take away is, I love the way that our team responded from last week," said head coach Sean McVay. "I think that says as much about our team as anything. Now, the truest measurement of performance is consistency."

Of course, the Cardinals defense is last in the NFL in total yards yielded. Yet, the return of McVay's progressive offense had to be a welcome relief for the team that had struggled in practically every game this season. They racked up 549 total offensive yards while defensively giving quarterback Kyler Murray and Arizona's offense a mere 198 total yards. It comes just in time for this Sunday Night Football game hosting the Seahawks at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

The 7-5 Rams seem to have one chance to qualify for the 2019 NFL Playoffs beginning in January 2020, the sixth place Wildcard slot. Both of their rivals in the NFC West, the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, are tied for the division lead with 10-2 records. The chances of unseating either is very low, considering either team would have to lose three of their last four games for the Rams to have a chance to tie their record.

The 49ers have a tough road game versus the New Orleans Saints this weekend. They then host the Atlanta Falcons before entertaining the Rams on December 1 at Levi's Stadium. The Niners end at the Seattle, December 29. The Seahawks play at the Carolina Panthers next week before hosting the Cardinals on December 21.

The 8-3 Minnesota Vikings are the Rams logical target at making the playoffs. The Vikings host the 3-8-1 Detroit Lions this Sunday, visit the much-maligned 4-8 Los Angeles Chargers on December 15 before hosting the 9-3 Green Bay Packers on December 23 and the 6-6 Chicago Bears to end the season.

The Rams have a difficult schedule to maneuver. After hosting the Seahawks this coming Sunday night, they travel to the Dallas Cowboys for a December 15 matchup. They visit the 49ers on December 21 before having a relatively easy game against the Cardinals to end the regular season on December 29.

The Rams first two offensive drives against the Cardinals on Sunday yielded only one field goal despite getting into the Red Zone both times. A concerning trend was another missed field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein, a 41-yarder this time. He has missed six field goals in 28 attempts this season, a 78.6 completion percentage. His three previous seasons in Los Angeles set a high standard: 86.4% in 2016, 95.0% in 2017 and 87.1% in 2018.

Goff got the Rams offense clicking on all cylinders on their third drive stretching into the second quarter. They moved 81 yards on 12 plays, ending with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Higbee for a 10-0 lead at 14:22. Meanwhile, the Rams defense made things miserable for Murray, holding the Cards to one first down in the first quarter. They stopped a drive past midfield in the second quarter and held Arizona to two three-and-outs on the other first half possessions.

The Rams countered with a Todd Gurley's one-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter and finished up with a 33-yard Zuerlein field goal to end the half. Goff drove the team to another score in third quarter, ending with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. It was Goff's first touchdown pass since October 27, a 24-10 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in London.

Rookie cornerback Taylor Rapp got his first NFL interception in the third quarter, a 31-yard pick-six that gave the Rams an insurmountable 34-0 lead. The Rams defense held Murray to 163 total yards passing and sacked him six times. Aaron Donald had 1.5 sacks while sharing one with Michael Brockers. Cory Littleton, Sebastian Joseph, Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews had one sack each.

Todd Gurley had 95 yards rushing on 19 carries and one touchdown. He also had one touchdown called back due to a holding call. Refreshing is that Goff was able to spread the ball around without suffering any turnovers. Robert Woods led all receivers with 13 receptions for 172 yards. Interestingly, Woods has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season. Higbee caught seven passes for 107 yards, Kupp had six receptions for 65 yards.

The Rams are looking to avenge their disappointing loss to the Seahawks earlier this season. The Rams were seemingly on their way to a Thursday Night win and a 4-1 season start at Seattle when Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal at the end of the game to lose 30-29. The loss was part of a three-game losing streak that the team is still trying to recover from to make the playoffs.

Sunday night's game will be the first big challenge in the Rams next three games. To sweep a lineup of Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco just to hopefully keep pace with the Minnesota Vikings is a tall order. McVay: "We've got to try to put together a great game plan and a good week of preparation and go beat the Seahawks next week. I do believe you get what you deserve in the league."

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