Rams entering MNF vs. Cardinals with NFC West title hopes on life support
Dec 11, 2021, 8:26 AM
TEMPE — There are more than enough storylines surrounding the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams as they prep for a Monday Night Football matchup littered with postseason implications.
Both teams look noticeably different following their Week 4 tilt, with Arizona missing defensive lineman J.J. Watt and likely running back Chase Edmonds, while the Rams added two new faces to the mix in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and pass rusher Von Miller.
But even with the additions, the Rams haven’t looked like that juggernaut of a team they looked like at the start the year.
Following its 37-20 loss to Arizona in Week 4, Los Angeles turned around and won four straight, keeping the race for the NFC West title tight.
But a 28-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 quickly snowballed into a three-game losing streak — or no-win November — with losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, giving the Cardinals a little bit of breathing room at the top of the division.
The common denominator in those losses was quarterback Matthew Stafford’s ability, or lack thereof, to keep the ball out of the defense’s hands.
Over the course of the three defeats, Stafford tossed a total of five interceptions, giving up a pick-six in each. He also fumbled once.
He didn’t get much help, though, with the Rams rushing attack putting up no more than 68 yards on the ground in two of the three games and being held scoreless throughout the losing streak.
Fortunately for the Rams, their leaking season got a patch in the form of the 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars this past Sunday.
Despite taking a couple of licks from the Jaguars defense, Stafford turned in one of his best showings of the season, completing 68.4% of his passes for 295 yards and no turnovers.
The run game also made a mark on the outcome, totaling a season-high 128 yards on the ground in the win behind Sony Michel’s 124-yard and one-touchdown outing. The performance was the first in which a Rams rusher put up at least 100 yards in a game.
After the contest, Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters he thought it was a balanced effort, adding he believed Stafford managed the game well and highlighted his work on third down.
“It really points to them being a run-first offense and dictating the down and distance not turning the ball over,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Friday. “That’s the key for that offense, that’s the key for any team in this league this time of the year is to dictate how you want the game to go and not give the ball away and make the defense obviously make plays and make stops and not give them plays.
“That’s everyone’s formula this time of the year and when you have that kind of talent and that kind of scheme with that efficiency, it works.”
Stafford’s newest target in Beckham has seemingly taken over released wideout DeSean Jackson’s place as the team’s “home run hitter” as Joseph said Friday.
Through three games, Beckham has reeled in nine catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns, one of which being a 54-yarder.
“He’s trying to score touchdowns, we understand that,” Joseph added. “He’s a talent and he’s going to be out there Monday night. We have to have a plan to find him and take him away.”
On the other side of the football, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the offense is preparing for the dastardly duo of Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
In what will be his fourth game as a Ram, Miller has posted nine tackles (three for loss), a forced fumble and a QB hit as he continues to learn the system since making his L.A. debut in Week 10.
As for Donald, he continues to produce, recording five sacks, 39 tackles and 12 QB hits since the Rams and Cardinals last met (eight games).
And don’t forget about cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who has at least one pass defensed in all but three games to go along with three interceptions and a QB hit.
“They continue to evolve, just like everybody else,” Kingsbury said Monday. “Defensively, they’re going to do what they do. They’re great up front with those pass rushers.
“You got Donald coming at you and then Ramsey roaming that secondary. It’s a huge challenge. They looked great [against the Jaguars] when you watch that film. It’ll take our best effort.”