After a long 2021 season, the playoffs are finally here and the Los Angeles Rams find themselves facing off against an all-too-familiar opponent in the Arizona Cardinals during the Wild Card round. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds split the season series 1-1, which means the two teams finally get to settle the record on who is truly the better team.
Both squads are coming off Week 18 losses, and while they might be considered flawed contenders, there is enough talent on each roster to make a Super Bowl run. Even though the Rams won the last matchup, there will need to be wary as the Cardinals have more than enough to pull off an upset at SoFi Stadium.
Rams Offense vs. Cardinals Defense
The switch over to a more physical run style helped Los Angeles overtake Arizona in the last meeting, and that would be a wise formula to follow again with Sony Michel and Cam Akers. Michel was bottled up in the loss against the San Francisco 49ers, but he should have more room to run against a Cardinals team that is weaker on the ground. Aside from Michel, Akers figures to handle more carries than he did in his debut and he could be an X-factor with his skillset as a runner and receiver.
Matthew Stafford played well last time in Arizona, and he will need to replicate his last performance where he made timely throws and took care of the football. Fortunately for Stafford, he has Cooper Kupp, who torched the Cardinals for 13 receptions, 123 yards and one touchdown.
Kupp is set up to do well again against an above-average Arizona secondary, but the ancillary pieces in the passing game need to be ready as well. Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee will likely be more open as Arizona shifts their focus to Kupp.
One major change this time around could be J.J. Watt, who was activated from injured reserve and has a shot of suiting up. The Rams offensive line has struggled in recent weeks, so having to face Watt would obviously present challenges.
Rams Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
Los Angeles is catching a major break as DeAndre Hopkins remains sidelined and could receive a bigger boost if James Connor is unable to go as well. However, Kyler Murray has presented problems in the past with his ability to scramble and run with the football, so containing him in the pocket is going to be key. While Murray’s receiving options are limited, the Cardinals always seem to have a knack for converting on explosive plays against the Rams.
Unfortunately, L.A. is also short-handed as Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp will be out, which means Terrell Burgess and Nick Scott will draw the start at safety. Eric Weddle will provide some depth, but it is hard to trust the veteran who has not seen the field since the 2019 season.
With this in mind, it would not be surprising to see the Cardinals target the middle of the field with Zach Ertz and Chase Edmonds or Connor.
Keys To Victory
1. Stafford takes care of the football
It sounds like an obvious point, but Stafford’s issues with turnovers have come back and it cost them against San Francisco and nearly against the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Playing smart, situational football will go a long way in putting away the Cardinals.
2. Stick to the ground game
Head coach Sean McVay has a tendency to stray away from running the football after the first couple of series and that can not happen against Arizona. Los Angeles needs to make sure they control time of possession, and the best way to do that is to ride Michel and Akers. Extending drives and keeping Murray off the field is a sound strategy for ensuring their victory.