Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

COVID hits Rams hard this week after win over Cardinals

 

December 16, 2021

Jevone Moore

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford stands tall in the pocket as he gets ready to complete a pass against the Arizona Cardinals last Monday night in Arizona.

The Sonoran Desert continues to be an oasis for the Los Angeles Rams as they beat the Cardinals for the seventh consecutive year at State Farm Stadium in Glendale Arizona. The 30-23 urgent victory seemed unlikely six hours before the NFC West Monday Night Football Showdown, when five Rams became unavailable due to positive COVID tests. Yet, behind defensive tackle Aaron Donald and quarterback Matthew Stafford the Rams climbed back into the Division race.

However, by mid-Tuesday the mood was more concerning regarding further COVID protocol measures the Rams had to take. Head coach Sean McVay revealed, "We had to close our building down. This COVID thing has taken over kind of all the things that we're dealing with right now.

"Where we're at right now is navigating through this COVID stuff. We had to test guys. We're in intensive protocols. We're remote today. We will be remote tomorrow. This has definitely been the most uniquely challenging situation we've dealt with COVID over the last two years."

What made the victory over quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals more satisfying was the list of key players that did not suit up due to COVID. Jalen Ramsey, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Higbee, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Dont'e Deayon. The Rams were also without the services of center Brian Allen due to a knee injury and linebacker Terrell Lewis hampered with a knee injury.

But the Rams added seven more players to the COVID reserve list on Tuesday, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. who caught a touchdown for the third consecutive game on Monday. The six others are: Terrell Burgess, Brycen Hopkins, JuJu Hughes, Alaric Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Jonah Williams. Fortunately, tight end Tyler Higbee came off the reserve list once his test was determined as a false positive.

Beckham had his most productive game as a Ram, catching six of seven targeted passes for 77 yards, along with the 2-yard touchdown pass. Burgess played 42% of the defensive downs at safety and 67% of the special teams plays. Hopkins played 34% of the offensive plays at tight end, predominantly used to block with the offensive line. Hughes was in 37% of the special teams plays and Jackson in six. Joseph-Day and Williams did not play against the Cardinals.

"I don't want to get into too many specifics, but there's going to be more people that are affected by this and how we navigate through this is going to be key and critical to our success moving forward and navigating through the rest of the month of December finishing up our regular season into January," warned McVay.

The Rams coaching staff and players worked remotely on Tuesday and Wednesday. The team's schedule for the rest of the week was still up in the air as they prepare for a home game against the Seattle Seahawks, 1:25 p.m. this Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The Seahawks (5-8) are coming off a 33-13 victory over the Houston Texans, but still remain in last place in the NFC West behind Arizona (10-3), Rams (9-4), and the San Francisco 49ers (7-6), who beat the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime, 26-23.

The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald set the tone with his best performance of the season. He punctuated his terror on Murray and the Cardinals offense by opening and closing the game with a quarterback sack. He also deflected a pass at the line that was intercepted by linebacker Ernest Jones at the Rams goal line.

It was a critical moment late in the first quarter as Arizona was threatening to take a 10-0 lead. Donald finished the game with three sacks, five tackles and lined up on 74 of 78 total defensive downs. He also had 14 pressures on Arizona's backfield. In a no-brainer, Donald was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Donald described his bookend sacks: "First play of the game 101, just bulled 'em. Got to the quarterback. Just staying active. Guys did a great job as far as keeping him (Kyler Murray) bottled in. We was just flying around. Von came free, and he kind of like missed it (sacking Murray) 'cause he ducked it, and I didn't even think he was going to break out. He spun out and gave me a sack, so."

Stafford also had his finest game as the Rams quarterback, especially the Cardinals being on the cusp of winning the NFC West with a win against the Rams on last Monday. Stafford completed 23 of 30 passes for 287 yards while throwing three touchdowns without an interception. The 139.2 passer rating was his highest of the season since opening the season with a 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 1.

This win was much more impressive, with Stafford leading a compromised offense with pinpoint passes and lightning strikes. Cooper Kupp and Stafford worked like a fine synchronized watch as the NFL's leading receiver caught 13 of Stafford's throws for 123 yards and one touchdown pass. He constantly bewitched Arizona's secondary. Kupp leads the league in multiple receiving categories, including 113 catches, 1,489 total receiving yards, 12 touchdowns, 40+ yard receptions, and receptions for first down with 70.

Encouraging is the continued integration of edge-rusher Von Miller into the defense packages and Beckham Jr. in the offensive scheme. Both players were key in defeating the Cardinals. Miller, now lining up in 80% of the defensive downs, constantly pressured Murray and just missed his first sack as a Ram on the last play of the game.

"When you play someone like Kyler Murray you've got to have athleticism on the field, you've got to have speed on the field," said Rams General Manager Les Snead during Tuesday's Coach McVay show with hosts J.B. Long and D'Marco Farr. "Over the course of a 60-play game, guys like Leonard Floyd, guys like Von Miller, Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, the rest of the group blitzing with Ernest Jones, that's what we like to see."

"It's been neat to see Odell really adjust to what we're doing, evolvement in offense... him being able to understand concepts, the importance of depth and patience and routes. It's very hard for a receiver to come to a team in the middle of the year and learn an offense... this one in particular."

Beckham used his high football I.Q. to help run out the clock in the closing minutes, taking advantage of game clock rules by running off the field for negative yards. A positive gain would have stopped the clock that would have given the Cardinals valuable seconds when they regained possession of the ball.

The suddenly revived Seattle Seahawks roll into town this Sunday with a two-game winning streak after having lost six of the previous seven games. That futility began with the Rams beating the Seahawks, 26-17, in Week 5 up in Seattle. Snead said, "We're still going to have to get through the adversity this week with the COVID situation that is alive and well.

"Seattle's a little down this year record-wise but their coming in on a two-game winning streak. They could have easily mailed it in. But that's not who they are and they're probably as hot now as they've been the entire year."

 

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