Rams Rebound Against Cardinals
Regain Tie for First in NFC West
December 10, 2020
Since 2017, the Los Angeles Rams under head coach Sean McVay have been ready, responsive and resilient in games following a regular season loss. Sunday’s win 38-28 win over Division rival Arizona Cardinals improved the team’s record with McVay to 14-4 after suffering a defeat the week before. The victory vaulted the Rams into the virtual lead in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks, both with 8-4 records with four games remaining this season.
But there’s very little time to savor as the Rams host the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium this Thursday night, a team that just pummeled the Los Angeles Chargers, 45-0, this past Sunday in the same stadium. The Rams will be looking to put an end to their one-game losing streak at SoFi (courtesy of the San Francisco 49er’s two games ago) as well as seek a slight revenge on head coach Bill Belichick and the Pats for beating the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
“It was a good win by our team yesterday, but it's about being able to move on and kind of hit the reset button and have a great week of preparation,” said McVay on Monday. “I know a Coach Belichick and his coaching staff do as good a job as anybody getting their guys ready to roll. I think they're playing their best ball as of late.”
After having won six Super Bowls and 17 of 19 AFC East titles since 2001, the Patriots, at 6-6, are having their worst season since 2002 when they finished 9-7. They no longer have their stars: quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, both signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to free-agency). They also lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts and starting center Ted Karras to the Miami Dolphins in free-agency.
Team captain and safety Duran Harmon was traded to the Lions. Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, who was on Belichick’s staff from 2004-2017, also lured linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive lineman Danny Shelton from the Pats with big multi-year contracts. Despite the roster attrition, Belichick has reinforced his reputation as the NFL’s greatest coach by the virtue of his challenged roster still alive in the playoff picture.
“We've been able to play more consistently and not turning the ball over has helped,” said Belichick, whose team has won four of their last five games. “We’ve gotten better in all three phases of the game. Played better defensively, played better in the kicking game and played better offensively.”
“I have a lot of respect for Sean and of course going back to John (McVay, Sean’s grandfather, Vice President of the 49ers from 1980-94 and General Manager, 1998-99) as well. We both grew up in football families, but will just keep the personal part of our relationship private. Have a lot of respect for him. Talk to him. He's got some great insight and great ideas and I always enjoy talking to Sean.”
The reduced throwing action from quarterback Cam Newton has been a factor in the Patriots’ last four wins. Interestingly, success seems to come when Newton doesn’t pass the ball as often. In a loss to the Houston Texans three weeks ago, he threw 40 passes for 365 yards and ran for only six yards. In their last two wins, Newton threw for only 84 and 69 yards, respectively, but increased his rushing totals to 46 and 48 yards, including two touchdown runs against the Chargers.
Belichick expects the Rams to bring a variety of pressure defensively: Coach Staley (Brandon, Rams defensive coordinator) does a good job of disguising their defenses and changing things up. It's kind of hard to know exactly what you're going to get, a lot of times you don’t know until the ball is snapped. So, that'll be a challenge for us.”
“Those are the two dynamic players (Donald and Ramsey). They’re good. You need to know where they are on every play. They can ruin a game and do ruin games… Denver did a pretty good job on us earlier in the season. So, I'm sure we'll see some similarities there that we’ll have to be better on.”
At Arizona, the Rams defense applied constant pressure while containing fleet-footed Cards quarterback Kyler Murray, holding him to a mere 15 yards on 5 carries and no rushing touchdowns. In his previous 11 games, Murray rushed for 650 yards on 97 carries and 10 rushing touchdowns. Aaron Donald, the NFL’s best defensive player, got his 12th sack of the season. He also had one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and created his typical havoc and mayhem in the opponent’s backfield.
Jalen Ramsey, the NFL’s premier cornerback, pretty much locked down elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in man-to-man coverage. Hopkins caught eight of 13 targeted passes to him for 52 yards and one touchdown, mostly on other defenders covering him. The Rams defense held the Cardinals to 232 total yards offense and allowed Murray and Co. only four of 12 third-down conversions. Los Angeles dominated the total time of ball possession, 38:53 minutes to 21:07 minutes for Arizona.
Goff rebounded in fine fashion from one of his most frustrating experiences in terms of protecting the ball and directing the offense from the previous week’s loss to the Niners. Versus the Cards, he completed 37 of 47 passes (still too many for most concerned) for 351 yards, one touchdown pass, no interceptions or fumbles and on sack. Remarkedly, Goff completed passes to nine different receivers, each with over 20+ yards receiving.
McVay: “I thought he (Goff) got through progressions really well. There's a lot of things too, that don't show up on the stats for him that I think are a real reflection of playing well, and that's managing the run game.
Rookie running back Cam Akers scored on a 9-yard run in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Tight end Tyler Higbee caught a one-yard pass to put the Rams up 14-7 just before halftime. They never trailed after that. Goff took a one-yard keeper into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Running back Darrell Henderson busted out of the gates for a 38-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes to go and cornerback Troy Hill got a 35-yard pick-six interception for a score late in the game.
“The things that we ask of him (Goff) change by the week based on what the defense presents them. We know this is going to be a unit that applies pressure and being able to handle some of those different things is going to be critical for us,” said McVay, who has yet to lose to the Arizona Cardinals in seven matches.
“Confident that we've got to do a great job putting together a plan and then him digesting it and making it come to life on Thursday night will be something that is going to be a big part of how we handle this game and what ends up occurring as far as the result.”