Cardinals Take on the Rams
Do not adjust your screens, the Arizona Cardinals are playing the Los Angeles Rams on the road. To be specific it took a long flight across an ocean and a stamp on the passport for the Cardinals to settle in for their divisional rivals. Week 7 brings both teams to London for a game at Twickenham Stadium. The rugby stadium is the second largest in the United Kingdom and fourth largest in Europe. It will be a battle for both teams, combating the travel and the familiarity of their opposition. The Cardinals picked up a big victory last Sunday and are looking to move up the NFC West standings with a divisional win against the Rams. Here are three keys to getting the victory.
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Keep Using Peterson
Adrian Peterson had less than a full week of preparation for the game against Tampa Bay. Even with compressed study time, Peterson gashed Tampa Bay for 134 yards rushing on 26 carries, adding a couple of touchdowns. Peterson was nearly unstoppable and was the reason the rest of the offense was able to move the football and put points on the scoreboard. A balance was found within the offense and all signs point to continuing that trend moving forward. The key is to maintain a healthy work-load for veteran running back while also ensuring he stays fresh.
Peterson should get around 20-22 touches on Sunday to be successful. The Rams have a tougher front seven than the Buccaneers and will challenge the run game. The game plan shouldn’t change too drastically against Los Angeles but expect a few more runs for Peterson out of multiple receiver sets in an attempt to thin out the box around the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals often utilized multiple tight end sets to run the football against Tampa Bay. While not the best receiver coming out of the backfield, Peterson would be useful in passing formations, such as swing passes on the flats, screens, or inside trap and zone runs. They will need to utilize Peterson in these sets as it will be tougher sledding against the Rams. Arizona needs to stick with the run for as long as possible. Balance is what will win this game.
Contain Rams’ Pass Rush
The Rams have sacked the quarterback on 20 occasions. That is just under four a game this season. The Rams run a 3-4 defense coached by Wade Phillips. The sacks come from all around the defense with seven players tallying at least two sacks. Pass protection has been a sore spot for the Cardinals. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been sacked 21 times this season. The run game will obviously be important in protecting Palmer against the Rams. Play-action freezes the rush as they figure out whether to continue up field or stay in their gaps. That bit of hesitation helps the offensive line stay in front of the defender and hopefully allows the receivers to find open spaces.
The offensive line is starting their best available offensive linemen. Last Sunday was the first time all season the Cardinals were able to do that. They played their best offensive game of the season. Left tackle D.J. Humphries returned and played well for Arizona. Left guard Alex Boone also returned from injury and provided a big upgrade along the interior of the line. The Cardinals will need their entire line to play well and play together on Sunday. Phillips and his defense like to come from all sides of the field and have the outside rushers to get after the quarterback. Linebackers Connor Barwin and Robert Quinn are both converted defensive ends who have been excellent pass rushers throughout their careers. However, the best defender on the defense is defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald has a terrifying combination of speed and strength along the inside. The four year player has made the Pro Bowl his first three season and been voted All-Pro the last two. The interior of the Cardinals line will need to find ways to double team and negate Donald in the passing game. If Palmer finds himself avoiding the rush often, it could be a long day for the Arizona offense.
Defense Needs to Show Up
The Cardinals defense nearly gave away the game late against the Buccaneers. Cornerback Patrick Peterson’s injury last game placed a large spotlight on the defense’s deficiencies. The secondary seemed to lose receivers on most plays and the lack of a shutdown corner cutting off half the field put strain on the pass rush. Against Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff, the defense will need to find a way to disrupt the offensive rhythm. Goff has shown glimpses of the quarterback he is expected to become. The credit goes to his hard work and the coaching of Sean McVay. The youngest coach in the NFL came from Washington during the offseason and took over a Los Angeles team who struggled to do anything positive last season.
This year the Rams have put more of a focus on getting the ball to running back Todd Gurley in the run game as well as in passing situations. Gurley has already scored seven touchdowns on the year, four coming on the ground and three through the air. The former University of Georgia runner has found himself more than halfway to a 1,000 yard season, a major bounce back from an 885 yard season in 2016, where he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Joining Gurley in keying the Los Angeles attack is Goff. The second year quarterback started the final seven games of the 2016 season, throwing for five touchdowns to seven interceptions. In the first six games this season, Goff has already thrown for eight touchdowns to just three interceptions. Goff favors rookie receiver Cooper Kupp who has played almost exclusively in the slot and is third on the team in receptions. The Cardinals will need safety Tyrann Mathieu to cover Kupp and keep the rookie pass catcher off the board. The pass rush will be important in moving Goff of his launch point, forcing the quarterback to move around the pocket rather than get set and deliver the football. If the Cardinals defense continues their play from the second half of last week’s game it will be a shootout. The Cardinals have the talent on defense to make stops, they will need to play smart and stick to their assignments.
The Cardinals have the veteran talent and leadership that the Rams lack. However, Los Angeles is perhaps a more talented team after years of high draft picks. Arizona will need to play balanced on offense to put pressure on the young Rams defense and keep their own defense off the field and rested. The Cardinals need a big game from Mathieu in shutting down the slot position and forcing Goff to push the ball deep where Peterson returns and safety Antoine Bethea is looking to continue his streak of three games with an interception. A win at least puts the Cardinals in second place in the NFC West, first place if the Seahawks lose, so expect head coach Bruce Arians to have his squad ready. It’s an early game on Sunday so get your tea and biscuits ready. Cardinals 27-17
*all stats courtesy of NFL.com