TEMPE – After winning three games outside of NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals are entering their division for the first time this season with the Los Angeles Rams.
It will be an unbeaten battle, with Arizona and Los Angeles among the five teams remaining unbeaten this season.
But unlike the Cardinals’ top three opponents, the Rams present a much more difficult test, especially with quarterback Matthew Stafford looking more than at ease in his new digs in the West and Los Angeles holds an advantage. 8-0 over Arizona since 2017.
The Rams claimed first place in the NFC on Sunday with a 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stafford had his best day as a ram to date, shooting 71.1% (27 of 38) of his throws for 343 yards and four touchdowns. The release was marked with a 75-yard kicking shot wide receiver Desean Jackson in the third quarter.
Among signal callers who have appeared in three games so far this season, Stafford is fifth in passing yards with 942 and second to only Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (10) in touchdowns with nine.
Matthew Stafford has been effective in empty formations, leading the NFL in completed passes (25), yards (345) and EPA passes (+21.2).
– Next Generation Statistics (@NextGenStats) September 27, 2021
It’s arguably Stafford’s best start to a season in his 13-year NFL career. In just one other season (2011), Stafford had nine touchdowns, including three from over 66 yards, in the first three games.
Fifth-year spreader Cooper Kupp made the most of Stafford’s arrival, surveying the NFL in two receiving yards (367) and touchdowns (5).
“It is more present in slot machines. He’s not exactly a vertical guy, but he’s so cunning, ”defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “He plays with great intelligence, I would say. He understands the area, he understands the man and he finds the weak points. He’s a badass because he’s so smart.
“And the quarterback right now, it’s like they’ve been together for four years. It’s going to be tough, but having a plan to, obviously, take her out every now and then is going to be important. “
But where the Rams excel in the air, they lack on the ground.
While Los Angeles is seventh in the NFL in passing yards per game with 304.3 and second in touchdowns, the Rams’ rushing offense is 27th in yards per game (83.7) and tied for 31st in yards per game. stroke (3.3).
Injuries have played a big part in the trend. Ahead of the start of the season, projected running back Cam Akers fell with a torn Achilles, letting the Rams come out and trade for Sony Michel to team up with Darrell Henderson Jr.
Henderson’s injury in Week 2 only made the running game problems worse for Los Angeles as he was ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Michel carried the ball 20 times for 67 yards. No other Ram had more than three litters. Despite missing one game, Henderson still leads the team with 123 yards and two scores on 29 carries and is expected to play in Week 4.
Luckily for Los Angeles, his solid defense led by defensive lineman Aaron Donald makes up for anything lacking in the rushing offense.
The Rams’ defense is 10th in the league in points per game (20.7) and 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (92.7).
Donald has two sacks, five QB hits, 13 tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble on his 2021 CV. His ability as a passer is undisputed.
“I’ve never seen anything like it on tape,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said on Wednesday. “Guys I’ve spoken to in the league that I respect have said the same thing.
“There is no way to stop it. You just have to try to do things to neutralize it as best you can.
However, there is one area of defense that has been tapped this season, with the Rams ranking 25th in passing yards allowed per game at 281.3.
While Los Angeles limited Brady to a single touchdown on Sunday, the quarterback still slashed the Rams 432 yards through the air. He also ran in a score.
That’s not to say the talent isn’t there, with Jalen Ramsey leading the cornerback room.
Ramsey is fourth on the team in tackles (20) with one interception and two assists defended so far this season.
And under the guidance of Rams first-year defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Ramsey has only gotten better.
“To see the physique he’s played so far, he’s probably the defensive MVP when you see how he’s affected games,” Kingsbury said Wednesday.
“He was dominant on the perimeter, whether he was asked to cover, or to go attack, blow up screens. He’s been everywhere.
This NFC West game has the makings of a shootout written all over the place, but only if the Cardinals can start faster than in previous weeks.