Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals host division-leading Rams
Two teams that earned impressive wins last week will meet for the second time this season on Sunday afternoon.
The Los Angeles Rams (8-3) snapped the New Orleans Saints’ eight-game win streak with a 26-20 victory at the Coliseum. This win against the hottest team in the NFC meant the Rams would avoid a losing season for the first time in 10 years. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals’ two-game losing streak came to an end with a win at home over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now these two division rivals will clash for the first time stateside at University of Phoenix Stadium after the Rams pitched a 33-0 shutout in London five weeks ago. Arizona managed only 196 yards of total offense and lost quarterback Carson Palmer in the process. On offense, Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed 22 of 37 pass attempts for 235 yards and a touchdown. He did throw an interception but also ran for a touchdown.
To beat the Rams, the Cardinals will have to contain Goff and running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
It’s Behind Enemy Lines.
Saturday, December 2
• The Huddle: Ric Flair inspires the Rams’ 8-3 ‘Woo!’ (Los Angeles Times)
The Rams running back, Todd Gurley, was in disbelief when this media member asked what the “Woo” was about during coach Sean McVay’s postgame locker room speech. (For the record, WWE isn’t my thing, but I’ll look into it.)
• Cooper Kupp taking guff, but pass to Tavon Austin’s feet showed smarts (ESPN NFL Nation)
Todd Gurley will admit that Cooper Kupp, the Los Angeles Rams’ rookie slot receiver, has a decent arm — but perhaps not as good as his.
“I think I should be back there throwing it,” Gurley said, “but, whatever.”
Gurley also understands why Kupp is the one who will usually be tasked with that responsibility.
“He’s going to make great decisions with the ball, if anything,” Gurley said. “Unlike me, I’d be trying to do all types of crazy stuff and make a play and look like Travis Kelce and throw a pick.”
According to NFL Pick Watch, 97 percent of experts are taking the Rams over the Cardinals with only two pundits picking Arizona.
The two brave souls going out on a limb with the Cardinals are Pete Prisco of CBS and Dave Dameshek of NFL Network. Everyone else is picking the Rams, and for good reason.
The Rams have obviously done a lot of things well this season, but one of their most underrated qualities is the fact that they don’t take bad teams lightly. They beat teams they’re supposed to beat, and usually by wide margins.
The Los Angeles Rams have gotten off to a stellar 8-3 start, and a big reason for that is the job Todd Gurley’s done in Sean McVay’s offense. He’s in the midst of a career-best season, leading the league in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns.
In recent weeks, however, his role has decreased a bit. He’s seeing fewer touches despite remaining productive, a trend that McVay attributed to the Rams trying to keep him fresh on passing downs with Malcolm Brown and Lance Dunbar out.
The rookie wideout got a chance to play the role of quarterback on Sunday against the Saints, but his throw was, well, off the mark. Sean McVay called a double-pass trick play from Goff to Pharoh Cooper, who then lateralled it to Kupp.
• Rams Week 13 preview: 5 questions with Cardinals Wire (Rams Wire)
After blowing out the Cardinals 33-0 in Week 7, the Rams travel to Arizona looking for a season sweep of their division rivals and their ninth win of the season.
To preview Sunday’s matchup, we caught up with Jess Root, managing editor of Cardinals Wire. He broke down the running back situation, Arizona’s offense with Blaine Gabbert and how the Cardinals’ rookies have looked.
• Rams Todd Gurley showing maturity at the right time (Ramblin’ Fan)
I wasn’t impressed with the then second year running back last season, as excuses about a bad offensive line (a legitimate complaint), and his lack of hitting holes with any authority (a legitimate criticism), framed his “sophomore slump.”
That said, his recent comments on how 2017 has continued to roll out deserves notice. Head coach Sean McVay continues to manage his team the right way, and the ‘buy in’ is noticeable up and down the rank-and-file in Los Angeles.
Friday, December 1
Gurley has scored a league-best 11 of the Rams’ 33 touchdowns. His 66 points are the most in the NFL by a player other than kickers.
As of late, however, coach Sean McVay has reduced the third-year pro’s carries.
• Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam ready for first NFL start after early frustrations (Los Angeles Daily News)
Ebukam, a linebacker drafted by the Rams out of Eastern Washington in the fourth round this year, missed most of camp with that strained hamstring. Slowly but steadily, Ebukam has showed himself worthy of playing time, first on special teams and then on defense, and now his big moment has arrived.
McVay has come under some media criticism from pundits who apparently feel that relaying audibles to a quarterback is a step too far. Quarterbacks, some said, should have to make some decisions on their own, and not be force-fed information about what plays to audible to, and where to throw the ball.
• Can Aaron Donald’s pressures make him NFL Defensive Player of the Year? (ESPN NFL Nation)
Donald already has generated 62 quarterback pressures, a statistic used by Pro Football Focus that combines sacks, hits and hurries.
• Sean McVay: Week 15 return ‘realistic target’ for Robert Woods (ESPN NFL Nation)
Robert Woods, the Los Angeles Rams’ leading receiver, probably won’t return in time for the team’s highly anticipated Week 14 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, first-year head coach Sean McVay said Thursday.
• Cardinals’ Bruce Arians: Rams QB Jared Goff is protected a lot better (ESPN NFL Nation)
But the Rams significantly improved their offensive line in free agency by signing left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, and Goff is reaping the benefits. The 23-year-old has been sacked seven fewer times in four more games. Only three quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan — have started all 11 games and taken fewer than Goff’s 19 sacks.
• Rams vs. Cardinals: 4 key matchups to watch on Sunday (Rams Wire)
Sunday marks the first game the Rams will play against a team they’ve already faced in 2017, taking on the Cardinals in Arizona. The Cardinals are looking to avenge a 33-0 loss in London six weeks ago, though that’ll be hard without Carson Palmer.
In past years, that would frustrate Watkins, and any other No. 1 receiver, probably. However, he’s changed since joining the Rams, altering his attitude for the betterment of the team.
“Bad chemistry on the celebrating, but it’s whatever,” Gurley said Thursday. “We get in there so much we don’t have to do it every time, so it’s cool.”
Thursday, November 30
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t expected to get Robert Woods back just yet, but the return of three other key players is getting extremely close. Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar and Nickell Robey-Coleman were all limited in practice on Wednesday, which is a good sign for their availability in Week 13.
• 5 stats to know for Rams-Cardinals in Week 13 (Rams Wire)
There’s plenty of history between these two teams, and it’ll continue on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET when they meet for the 79th time. Here are five key stats to know for Week 13.
Not only did he see more passes come his way on Sunday against the Saints, but he was more productive than he’s ever been in the NFL. Kupp caught eight of 11 targets for a career-high 116 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up a touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Reynolds.
• Zuerlein Named November NFC Special Teams Player of the Month (therams.com)
No one has scored more points than Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein in 2017, and now Zuerlein has been named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for the second time this season.
• Goff needs to continue using Reynolds in passing game for Rams (Ramblin Fan)
And while certainly players like Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp certainly came through in Week 12 when facing the New Orleans Saints, one of the biggest surprises ended up being rookie Josh Reynolds, who previously had one catch for 28 yards to date prior to Sunday’s game.
• Los Angeles Rams WR Sammy Watkins impact on the offense goes beyond the eye test (Turf Show Times)
Sammy Watkins’ impact on the Rams’ offense goes much further than just his ability to stretch the field. Sosa Kremenjas takes a look at how he makes a difference for the passing attack.
Wednesday, November 29
• At 8-3, Rams Playing with Confidence (therams.com)
McVay and his staff have undoubtedly turned around the the club’s culture. And as the Rams keep winning, the confidence within the team only continues to grow.
• How Does McVay Communicate with Goff Before the Snap? (therams.com)
Head coach Sean McVay has famously engineered a stellar year-to-year turnaround of Los Angeles’ offense from one of the league’s worst to one of its best. But there’s been some criticism of the way McVay has operated with quarterback Jared Goff.
• Cardinals appear more formidable than a few weeks ago as Rams prepare for road trip to Arizona (The Los Angeles Times)
But the Cardinals showed last week that they won’t be a pushover for the Rams on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
• December may see a passing of the torch for Rams in the NFC West (Ramblin Fan)
As for the balance of 2017, and with five games left on the schedule, if form holds it is more likely than not that the Rams win the NFC West, and may be doing so for the foreseeable future. As with anything, the cyclical nature of the league may be witnessing a passing of the torch as Seattle fades and Los Angeles ascends.
As good as the offense been, though, there’s still one area in which the Rams have struggled mightily – and it’s not where you’d expect. Los Angeles is 29th in the NFL on third-and-1, converting just 46.7 percent of the time (7-for-15).
Tuesday, November 28
• Rams relying heavily on Jared Goff, diminishing the load on Todd Gurley (ESPN NFL Nation)
Goff has thrown 117 passes over the past three weeks, trailing only Ben Roethlisberger (121) for the NFL lead. A Rams player — be it Todd Gurley II, Tavon Austin or Lance Dunbar — has run the ball only 58 times during that stretch, less than half the time. It has given the Rams the NFL’s second-heaviest pass ratio from Weeks 10 to 12, behind only a Miami Dolphins team that has suffered three consecutive lopsided defeats.
• Defensive effort versus Saints shows Rams’ balance (ESPN NFL Nation)
The Los Angeles Rams’ defense would be tested in ways it hasn’t been all year. Sunday’s triumph, by a 26-20 score, proved once again that the Rams are among the NFL’s best, most balanced teams.
• Sammy Watkins: Rams have ‘some dogs’ at wide receiver (ESPN NFL Nation)
The Rams’ receiving corps, a major deficiency for about a decade, has come a long way.
• After years of losing, Rams serve notice that winning may not stop (ESPN NFL Nation)
Coming off 10 straight losing seasons and a 4-12 showing in their first year back in L.A., the Rams currently are the No. 3 seed in the NFC. They lead their division by a game, with an offense that is averaging nearly 30 points per game and a defense that is giving up less than 19.
• Column Eric Dickerson reveling in Rams’ change of coaches, and fortunes (Los Angeles Times)
“Oh, man, most definitely I feel good about it,” Dickerson said Monday about the team’s surprising turnaround. “If you’d have told me this team was going to be 8-3, I would have said, `No way.’ I just wouldn’t believe it after watching last year.”
According to head coach Sean McVay, Barwin had surgery Monday morning, and had a plate inserted into his forearm to correct the issue. Rookie outside linebacker Samson Ebukam has played at Barwin’s spot in the defensive rotation throughout the season.