Rams looks to stay unbeaten against Cardinals
September 30, 2021
Fresh off one of their most satisfying home victories since returning to Los Angeles in 2016, the 3-0 undefeated Rams now prepare for a second consecutive Sunday Shootout in Inglewood this weekend against the 3-0 undefeated Arizona Cardinals. This past Sunday, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams took out the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the G.O.A.T., quarterback Tom Brady in style, 34-24.
"I thought it was a great team win," said Rams head coach Sean McVay after the game. "Obviously, Matthew Stafford's leadership was outstanding today... I thought he was outstanding on third down as the game started to unfold where we had that sequence where we had four drives in a row with touchdowns. DeSean (Jackson) made his big plays. Defensively, Aaron (Donald) was all over the place and so was Jalen (Ramsey). I thought Kenny Young was outstanding today."
Stafford was satisfied with the result, "Tampa is a really good football team. You know, they're Super Bowl champs. Tom Brady, the defense, all of it. It was a big challenge for us. Nice to go out there and play our game. We went out there and executed. Didn't start as fast as we wanted to but did a nice job coming back when we needed to."
The win set up an instant must-see contest between the NFC West rivals, considered to be the top-two teams in most national power ranking polls after NFL Week 3. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is off to his best start in his third year with the Cardinals, ranking third overall in the league in passing yards, fifth in touchdown passes and sixth in the quarterback ratings. Yet, Stafford can throw shade on those numbers as he is second in league passing ratings, second in touchdown passes and fifth in passing yards in just three lifetime games with the Rams.
Adding to the accolades and the instant success Stafford has already brought to the Rams, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks. It was the third time Stafford has earned the award in his 13-year career. He won it only once in his 12 seasons as quarterback of the Detroit Lions, and that was way back in Week 11 of the 2009 season. He is also the only Rams quarterback along with Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams – 2001) to have won the award twice in one season.
Murray has steadily improved his game since joining the Cardinals as a rookie in 2019 when he had an 87.4 QB rating, finishing 25th among all NFL starting quarterbacks. His rating improved to 94.3 last season while he threw for 3,971 yards and 26 touchdown passes. This year Murray has already thrown seven touchdowns, which is on pace to reach the mid-30's by the end of the season. His receivers are also averaging 9.9 yards per catch, almost three yards per catch more than last season.
Yet, the Arizona Cardinals have yet to beat the Rams since Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and Murray both joined the team in 2019. They lost both games to Rams that season by scores of 34-7 and 31-24. Last season the Rams beat the Cards 38-28 in the first game and 18-7 in the season finale, the only time Arizona has held the Rams to less than 30 points, and that was with quarterback Jared Goff leading the Rams. This season the Cardinals are leading the league in total points scored, tied with the Buccaneers at 103. The Rams are right behind in third with 95 total points scored.
Before a capacity crowd of 73,20, Stafford started off slowly, completing only one of six passes as the Rams and Bucs exchanged multiple punts and played a scoreless first quarter. Stafford changed the script by completing eight passes while driving the Rams 95 yards in 14 plays, with tight end Tyler Higbee catching a 6-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. Brady responded by driving the Bucs 76 yards in 15 plays before wide receiver Chris Godwim rushed for a two-yard touchdown to tie the score.
Stafford and the Rams upped the ante with a 75-yard, 10-play scoring drive ending with a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp to lead 14-7 at halftime. The Rams opened the third quarter with a 75-yard explosive bomb to wide receiver DeSean Jackson on third-and-ten. Jackson ran through the endzone and into the field tunnel exit after scoring the touchdown, soon followed by a congratulating McVay.
"I left a couple short to DJack today," said Stafford. "But I was happy for him. He did a great job, getting behind the defense a couple times today. You know, I missed him on a couple so I was glad to make one of them count. It was a big play for us. Instead of going three and out right there, get a long touchdown and put a little wind in the sail so it was great."
McVay ran off a litany of Jackson's and the Rams receiving corps' exploits. "He (Jackson) did a great job," said McVay. "It was fun. He's electric. We had a lot of players that made a lot of plays. I thought (Tyler) Higbee had some critical third down conversions. We mentioned Sony (Michel). Robert Woods, the 20-yard in cut that he caught was a big play.
"I mean, you talk about a guy (Woods) who has had some hidden, big time plays in these three weeks. This guy's a stud. He's a captain for a reason. Van Jefferson continues to be steady. And then Cooper (Kupp) delivered. Cooper's so critical of himself, he's going to be bothered by a couple plays, but he still comes ups with almost 100 (yards) and two touchdowns."
Running back Michel stepped up in his first start with the Rams, rushing for 67 yards on 20 carries. Combined with an excellent game from the team's offensive frontline, the rushing attack kept Tampa Bay's vaunted pressure defense honest, allowing Stafford breathing room in the backfield.
"To step in there and play like he did today was awesome. And our guys up front, it starts and ends with them," said Stafford. "They did a hell of a job today against a really good front, an aggressive defensive coordinator that wants to send pressures. They did a great job of picking them up and giving me time to kind of survey the field and get the ball to the right guy. So, every week we talk about being the most physical team and that starts with those guys, and I think they did it again today."
The winner of Sunday's matchup with Arizona will have the inside track for the NFC West Division race even though there are still 14 games remaining in the season. The NFL's toughest Division will feature the Rams versus the Cardinals, as well as the surprisingly struggling 1-2 Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco this weekend against the 2-1 49ers. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is currently the highest rated passer in the league. Stafford is second, Murray fifth and 49er quarterback Jimmy Garappolo is rated 15th. The Rams contest against the Cardinals in Week 4 is as critical as any during the 18-week schedule.
McVay elaborated on Arizona's fast start this season and the Rams recent success against Kingsbury and Murray: "They're obviously playing really well this year. They've got a lot of playmakers in all three phases. They've got great schemes. I don't know that there's really an answer other than when we've played them, our guys have found a way to deliver in that three-hour window and do an excellent job coming away with the wins.
"But, what's happened in previous years has zero to do with what we're going to try to do on Sunday. Those things have no merit. It doesn't do anything for us. We just got to make sure that we prepare the right way moving forward and try to do everything we can to put another good performance together."
One thing is certain, the off-season trade for Stafford has been a godsend so far. And he's enjoying it. "Yeah, it's been great," Stafford said. "We have so many talented guys. I think Sean does a great job of just calling plays and letting us go out there and play and let me get through progressions.
"I think we had a lot of guys touch the ball today and make plays. So that's when we're at our best. I keep saying it but when we make defenses defend the entire field and everybody on our roster, that's going to be good for us."