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Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals seek first win of 2018 against Rams

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley is greeted by teammates Cooper Kupp (18) and Robert Woods (17) after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Steve Wilks era didn’t start out like some thought it would in the Arizona Cardinals’ Week 1 loss to the Washington Redskins.

Arizona struggled to tackle. Players didn’t get off blocks, the edges weren’t set and the Redskins regularly found holes up the middle, on the perimeter and in the zone defense.

Pair that with offensive struggles, 1-of-8 on third down conversations to go with just 213 yards of total offense, and it’s clear to see why the Cardinals lost 24-6 on Sunday.

Arizona’s next opponent won’t be any easier when the team travels to Los Angeles to battle Todd Gurley and the Rams.

Although there appeared to be some early-season rust, the Rams shined in their Monday Night Football matchup against head coach Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. Although most of the starters didn’t take a snap in the preseason, Rams quarterback Jared Goff looked like he didn’t miss a beat, completing 18 of his 33 passes (54.5 percent) for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the evening with a 97.2 quarterback rating.

The defense also paid dividends as new Ram Marcus Peters got on the scoreboard with a 50-yard interception return for the score.

All week long, we’ll let you know what’s going on in L.A. as the Rams prepare to host the Cardinals.

It’s Behind Enemy Lines.

Sunday, September 16

• Barron Inactive for Week 2 vs. Arizona (TheRams.com)

Inside linebacker Mark Barron is inactive for the second week in a row, dealing with an injured achilles.

Barron did not practice all week, which made it unlikely he would be active for Sunday’s matchup against the Cardinals. Barron, now in his eighth pro season out of Alabama, was No. 2 on the Rams last year with 108 total tackles.

• How the Rams and Cardinals match up in Week 2 (LA Times)

The Rams showed in a 33-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders that they did not need preseason games to get their offense in gear. And coach Sean McVay unveiled several new wrinkles that helped the Rams eclipse last season’s league-best 29.9 points-per-game average. New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks has a defensive background, but it had to be a blur watching Rams running back Todd Gurley and receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp going in motion.

• Rams opposition research: Breaking down the Cardinals (Rams Wire)

Like the Raiders, the Cardinals have had a ton of turnover and aren’t going to be too similar to the team the Rams beat twice last year. Here’s what the Rams can expect on both sides of the ball:

• Cardinals vs. Rams: Final score prediction for Week 2 (Rams Wire)

The Rams put the pedal through the floor in the second half of Week 1, outscoring the Raiders 23-0. The win was capped off by Marcus Peters’ pick-six, helping the Rams to a 1-0 record. Now, they’ll face an equally questionable Cardinals team that lost 24-6 in their season opener.


Saturday, September 15

• Rams Week 2 preview: 5 questions with Cards Wire (Rams Wire)

The Los Angeles Rams return home Sunday for the first of three straight games at the Coliseum, where they’ll take on the 0-1 Arizona Cardinals. The two teams looked staggeringly different in Week 1, with the Rams winning by 20 and the Cardinals falling to the Redskins by 18 points.

Ahead of Week 2, we chatted with Cards Wire managing editor Jess Root, who shared some insight on Arizona’s offense and defense by answering some of our questions.

• Former Teammates to Face Bradford for First Time (TheRams.com)

Drafted in 2012, Brockers played with Bradford for 23 regular-season games. But he has plenty of memories of Bradford from the locker room.

“That’s my guy. We used to play card games, be in here playing Tonk and stuff — he owes me some money, so maybe I’ll hit him up,” Brockers said with a laugh. “But for the most part we’re just going to focus on the game plan and execute.”

• Rams’ 3 biggest causes for concern vs. Cardinals in Week 2 (Rams Wire)

Arizona doesn’t pose much of a threat, but being a divisional opponent, you never truly know how a game is going to go. If there is anything for the Rams to worry about, it’s these three things.

NFL Week 2 picks: Who the experts are taking in Cardinals vs. Rams (Rams Wire)

It was one of the largest pick discrepancies in the league, yet the gap between the Rams and Cardinals is even greater in the eyes of the experts. According to NFL Pick Watch, 99 percent are picking the Rams to win on Sunday. That’s the largest contingent of experts picking one team this week with the Broncos, Chargers and Saints close behind at 97 percent.

• Is Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant that fired up all the time? YES! (The Athletic)

The loud, distinctive voice can be heard from all points of the Rams practice field. It rises above the din of 60 some-odd football players and a full coaching staff, sometimes erupting out of nowhere like the roll and roar of nearby thunder.

At times, it arrives pointedly. Not quite angry. But certainly not content.


Friday, September 14

Rams’ Aaron Donald is playing into shape and hopes a bigger impact is in cards for Week 2 (Los Angeles Times)

Donald, who sat out training camp and signed his extension 10 days before the opener, played most of the opener and made one tackle in the 33-13 victory over the Raiders. He recorded what appeared to be a sack but the play was nullified by a personal foul against Donald for falling on quarterback Derek Carr.

Warning to future opponents: Rams’ Aaron Donald thinks he can play better (Los Angeles Daily News)

After he missed all of the offseason program, training camp and preseason because of the contract dispute, Donald returned to the Rams on Aug. 31 and got in six game-week practices. That’s not much, after a long time away from the team, but Donald said he felt like he was in game shape.

“I was,” Donald said. “I just have to rush better and do things better. I’m second-guessing myself on certain things. I just have to keep playing football and I’ll get better.”

JoJo Natson returns to NFL and a big role with Rams after weekend as spectator (Los Angeles Daily News)

The Rams signed Natson to a contract Wednesday, shortly after they learned that All-Pro kick returner Pharoh Cooper will undergo ankle surgery. Natson, a receiver, will take over kickoff- and punt-return duties for the Rams this week, without much time to prepare for Sunday’s game against Arizona at the Coliseum.

Rams players earn some early R&R after Sean McVay cancels practice (The Athletic)

Upon further​ review, the​ Rams​ canceled​ their​ regularly​ scheduled​ practice​ on Wednesday.​ The late start​​ and physical nature of their season-opening 33-13 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night — coupled with the quick-turnaround for Sunday’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals — prompted head coach Sean McVay to determine that rest and recovery was more beneficial than a normal midweek practice.

Rams’ Wade Phillips marvels at Sean McVay’s ‘tremendous recall’ (ESPN NFL Nation)

“It’s not like I’m just recalling it and that’s the only time you’ve ever done it from,” he said. “These are things that we as coaches always go back through. So, it’s kind of something that you’re always revisiting, especially when it’s relevant plays.”


Thursday, September 13

• 6 things to know about Rams-Cardinals for Sunday (Rams Wire)

The Cardinals and Rams have met 79 times in their history, but only one game separates this series all-time. Incredibly, the Rams hold a 39-38-2 lead over the Cardinals, taking the lead after sweeping Arizona last season – the first time they had done that since 2012.

Goff Ready for Challenge of Cardinals Defense (TheRams.com)

During the lead up to Los Angeles’ first game of the season, head coach Sean McVay acknowledged his strategy of not playing quarterback Jared Goff and the rest of the offensive starters in a preseason game “might not be for everybody.”

• Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Top Week 2 storylines (Turf Show Times)

It looks like the Rams have an injury crisis at the kickoff/punt return position with WR Pharoh Cooper headed to IR and a groin/hip issue for WR Mike Thomas, the backup return specialist, for a bit though we’ll need to keep our eyes on the injury report.

So, who is going to return kicks this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals?

• Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders film review: Raiders QB Derek Carr’s disastrous second half (Turf Show Times)

In their game against the Los Angeles Rams, three of the first five Oakland Raiders’ drives ended with points on the board. Five of the final six drives of the game ended with a punt or a turnover.

So…what happened?

• Daily Dose: McVay Shows Off Stellar Memory (TheRams.com)

In August, head coach Sean McVay showed off his brilliant memory on HBO’s “Real Sports” with Bryant Gumbel. The Rams second-year head coach impressed with his football mind once again on Wednesday, in an episode of the Bleacher Report’s Simms & Lefkoe: The Show.


Wednesday, September 12

WATCH: Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay recalls plays on demand (Turf Show Times)

There’s not a lot of explanation here. It’s not just plays from 2017, games that he’s certainly re-watched several times this offseason and has fresh in the memory. What’s strange is that its seemingly isn’t restricted to games he’s coached:

Five Takeaways: Rams Start Season 1-0, Outscoring Raiders 23-0 in Second Half (TheRams.com)

Running back Todd Gurley’s first touchdown displayed something new from head coach Sean McVay’s offense.

On 1st-and-10 from the Oakland 19-yard line, Gurley lined up wide on the outside on the left with quarterback Jared Goff in shotgun. Goff signaled for Gurley to come in motion to the right, then raised his leg to indicate for center John Sullivan to snap the ball. At that point, Gurley started running full speed, Goff shoveled the ball forward to Gurley, and with good blocking in front of him went all 19 yards to the end zone.

It was a creative play to get Gurley in space.

• Rams re-sign JoJo Natson to replace injured kick returner Pharoh Cooper, who’s on injured reserve (LA Times)

The weekend was spent at home in Florida, watching season-opening NFL games and wondering when his next opportunity might come around.

JoJo Natson did not wait long.

With Pro Bowl kick returner Pharoh Cooper bound for surgery after suffering an ankle injury in the Rams’ opener Monday night, special teams coach John Fassel called Natson on Tuesday.

• Rams and Sean McVay’s preseason code of silence unveils new wrinkles in Week 1 (ESPN)

New wrinkles have been added to an offense that last season averaged 29.9 points per game to lead the NFL in scoring. And a few old tricks have been re-tooled, with 10 of 11 starters returning.

Over the offseason, Goff lost his deep target when receiver Sammy Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Enter Brandin Cooks, who the Rams acquired in an offseason trade with the New England Patriots in exchange for a first and sixth-round pick.


Tuesday, September 11

• Rams open as huge favorites over Cardinals in Week 2 (Rams Wire)

It’s the biggest spread of the week as of now and it’s unlikely to change much before Sunday. The Rams host the Cardinals at 4:05 p.m. ET on Sept. 16 with Sam Bradford likely getting the start for Arizona at quarterback.

The only way this line shifts in the Cardinals’ direction is if a Rams player gets hurt during this week of practice, but other than that, Los Angeles will remain strong favorites over Arizona.

• As Rams’ offense evolves, don’t forget Todd Gurley (ESPN NFL Nation)

Rams coach Sean McVay spent the offseason adding new wrinkles to an offense that led the league in scoring last season and returned 10 of 11 starters.

Many of the new play designs involve Gurley, who proved himself as a multidimensional threat last season.

• Four Rams Offensive Linemen on PFF Team of the Week (TheRams.com)

The offensive line proved protective on Monday night, allowing just one sack and two quarterback hurries — dominating Raiders rushers and PFF’s rankings.

• Remade Rams defense starts slow, then slams the door (ESPN NFL Nation)

If anything was apparent Monday in the Rams’ 33-13 victory over the Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, it was that the made-over defense needed at least a half to come together and knock off any rust. And there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

• What we learned in the Rams’ 33-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders (Los Angeles Times)

The reigning NFL coach of the year showed he is not going to stand pat after orchestrating a team that led the league in scoring last season.

• Rams spoil Gruden’s return with 33-13 win over Raiders (Los Angeles Times)

Once Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams offense got started after sitting out the entire preseason, they couldn’t be stopped.

Goff threw two touchdown passes, newcomer Marcus Peters returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown and the Rams used a dominant second half to spoil coach Jon Gruden ‘s much-anticipated return to the Oakland sideline by beating the Raiders 33-13 on Monday night.

• Rams jump one spot in Week 2 NFL power rankings after win (Rams Wire)

The Los Angeles Rams came into the season with higher expectations than just about everyone in the NFL. After the offseason they had, it’s easy to see why so many people are picking them to win it all.

• Daily Dose: Lessons From Week 1 (TheRams.com)

NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman came up with three takeaways from the Rams-Raiders Monday night showdown. Bergman’s takeaways included the second-half offensive turnaround and the Rams’ new lock-down corners.

• Snap Count Analysis: Rams vs. Raiders in Week 1 (TheRams.com)

The Rams begin their 2018 season 1-0 after a 33-13 victory over the Raiders on Monday Night Football. Here’s a look at the snap counts from the first week of the season.

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