The Arizona Cardinals will play against the Los Angeles Rams in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. These two teams are division rivals meaning this will their third match-up of the season. The first game between these two on, October 3rd, was won by the Cardinals, 37-20. Then the rematch, on December 13th was taken by the Rams, 30-23.
The first match-up wasn't much of a game as the Cardinals controlled it throughout with a good run attack and opportunistic defense. Arizona ran for 216 yards and forced the Rams into two turnovers compared to their zero turnovers.
The second match-up was a much better game as it was tied at 13 going into halftime. In the third quarter the Rams separated themselves by scoring 14 points and holding the Cardinals to zero. Los Angeles won the turnover battle two to zero, reversing what happened in the first game. Matthew Stafford was very efficient in the game completing 23 of his 30 passes for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns.
One obvious key in this match-up is the turnover battle. What are the other keys to victory for these two teams who may be questioning themselves after disappointing ends to their regular seasons?
Keys to Victory for the Arizona Cardinals
Photo courtesy of the Washington Post
Stop The Bleeding
Over the last five games of the season, Arizona gave up 28.4 points per game along with getting the ball run down their throat to the tune of 117 yards per game. The Rams are very capable of running the ball with Sony Michel and now a healthy Cam Akers. If they allow this to happen against the Rams, they will be eliminated from the playoffs.
Step Up and Show Out
DeAndre Hopkins has not played since week 14 and absence definitely makes the heart fonder as everyone can see the impact of this injury. Hopkins will not play in this game and the other wide receivers need to step up. In the four games that Hopkins missed at the end of the season, Arizona averaged 20.75 points per game compared to 26 points per game for the entire season. Cardinals quarterback, Kyler Murray, needs his wide receivers to step up in the absence of Hopkins. Veteran wide out AJ Green should be a steady option in this one.
Follow The Gold Rush
The San Francisco 49ers have had the Rams' number over the last few seasons, defeating them six straight times including the last game of this season. There are many factors that you can point to but the main one that stands out is the 49ers ability to run the ball against that Ram defense. San Francisco averaged 123.8 rushing yards per game over their six game win streak against Los Angeles. The Cardinals have the ability to run against the Rams which they proved in their first match-up this season. If Arizona sticks to the run in this game, it will definitely put them in an advantageous position.
Keys to Victory for the Los Angeles Rams
Photo via Turf Show Times
Be A Battering Ram
The Arizona Cardinals lost four out of their last five games to end the regular season and during those five games the Cardinals gave up 117.1 rushing yards per game as previously mentioned. It would behoove the Rams to try and take advantage of this glaring weakness in their defense. The Rams offensive line should be able to part the Red Sea and this would led to victory.
Play to Win, rather than to Not Lose
In the last game of the season, the Rams were up 24-17 with the ball and less than two minutes left in the game. Sean McVay went on the call three straight runs and essentially take no time of the clock as the 49ers used their timeouts, when one first down would have ended the game. On the ensuing possession the 49ers drove right down the field with very little resistance as the Rams sat back in the softest zone defense seen to man. It was sofT, yes sofT with a capital T. If this situation presents itself again, they cannot play it in that fashion. If Jimmy Garoppolo can lead a game tying drive against that defense, what do you think Kyler Murray will do?
Keep Mario Away From The Mushroom
Kyler Murray is the shortest quarterback in the NFL, listed at 5 feet, 10 inches tall. Key word being listed. Murray is an amazing athlete has been able to play much bigger than his stature. One of keys to him being able to play above his height is by buying time in and out of the pocket.
When Murray gets outside of the pocket its just like when Mario would jump on a mushroom in the old Super Mario Brothers games. Mario was very short and stumpy until he jumped on that mushroom and grew to a full size human. This is what happens when Murray starts running around, the field is wide open and no one is blocking his view of open receivers.
The Rams must keep Murray in the pocket by being discipline on the edges. Los Angeles has one of the best inside lineman in NFL history with Aaron Donald. So we know, he will be providing pressure up the middle. It will be on the edge rushers to contain and Murray and force him to see over and in between all those big bodies at the line of scrimmage. Not to mention this will also take away the run threat of Murray which is crucial to the Cardinals offense.
This game is tailor-made to be a classic playoff match-up that ends with a game-winning drive or game-winning stop. This will be a back and forth affair that ends with the Cardinals not being able to stop the rushing attack of the Rams. Los Angeles will defeat Arizona, 28-24.