Rams vs Cardinals: Another Incomplete Game
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been able to string together four quarters of quality football since Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. Over the five subsequent weeks, they have fallen apart in the second half. However, this week the Rams decided to flip the script and look incompetent on offense in the first half rather than their usual back-nine collapse. Here are some of the Rams vs Cardinals first-half offensive stats to illustrate:
Time of Possession: Cardinals 20:58/ Rams- 9:02
Rushing Yards: Cardinals 103/ Rams- 5
Passing Yards: Rams 118/ Cardinals 63
3rd Down Conversions: Rams 0-5/ Cardinals 4-10
First Downs: Rams 4/ Cardinals 11
They were able to turn it on just before half-time. With just 43 seconds left in the second quarter, Matthew Stafford picked up a huge chunk of the field with a 49-yard stinger to Cooper Kupp. That ball was all air yards. Then he tacked on another nine on a pass to Tyler Higbee to set up a field goal. So outside of that drive the Rams only managed 60 yards through the air. Where was this explosive passing attack for the first 14 minutes of play?
Level Of Competition
For most, the second-half resurgence was all they needed to see to feel like the offense was humming. And, to that point, it did look much better. They leaned into the run. And it worked, with flying colors. They put up the most single half-rushing yards of Sean McVay’s head coaching career. That’s great. The Rams need a viable running game to punish teams for playing with deep safeties.
But this is the 2023 Arizona Cardinals defense. They are the third-worst defense by EPA per play in the league. And the third worst by passing EPA per play too. The Rams aerial attack should have shredded this defense to a greater degree than the running game did.
This defense, the 2023 Cardinals passing defense, held the Rams to just 203 yards passing. Only EIGHT yards more than the Eagles allowed. That happened only twice in 2021. Furthermore, they only picked up 85 yards in the second half.
Yes, the Cards beat the Cowboys. But this is also the team widely regarded to be the favorite to pick #1 in 2024’s draft. The Rams offense should have demolished this so Kyren Williams could have been sipping a cold one on the sidelines in the 4th quarter rather than injuring his ankle. Even the Bengals and Giants offenses were able to hang more than 30 points on this team.
It goes back to the first takeaway. We’ve seen you walk, and we have seen you chew gum. Now let us see you do both.
Stafford Loves Kupp. Maybe More Than Ever
Is the Puka Nacua star still shining or has it faded faster than (insert latest celebrity couple break up) relationship? Last week it seemed that Stafford could distribute the ball to more than one receiver. This week he dumped Nacua dramatically in favor of his ride-or-die, Cooper Kupp. Kupp was targeted on 9 of 19 total targets, 47 percent of all targets. Even at its peak, Kupp’s target share hovered in the low to mid-30s. In the first four weeks, not even Nacua’s target share was as high as Kupp’s was last week.
Nacua looked like a mere mortal for the first time last week with four catches for 26 yards. Things may shift as the season progresses, but an unbalanced target share could be detrimental if they don’t integrate their pass catchers, for a few reasons:
1.) Nacua is a great receiver and he should be utilized by Stafford.
2.) Too much Kupp could result in another injury. His injury last season came after he was pounded relentlessly for eight games with a 33 percent target share. Even during this game, there was an injury scare.
3.) The interplay between Kupp and Nacua has the potential to terrorize defenses. If they are used together and targeted accordingly, this offense will flourish.
Perhaps Nacua was on something of a pitch count now that Kupp is back, giving Nacua a chance to heal and recuperate. But Stafford’s MO is to pepper HIS guy, not spread it around.
Conclusion of The Takeaways from Rams Vs Cardinals
There is a thread that binds all of this week’s takeaways from the Rams vs Cardinals game; This offense has lacked a cohesive identity. McVay needs to call a complete game while using both the running game and the passing game to move the ball with all of his weapons being utilized according to their skill set for the entire game.
They may have stumbled on their identity this week as a tough physical gap-schemed running team. But they will have to be able to vacillate between that and a finesse-based deep passing attack. They won’t face a softer run defense all season. In fact, they will face some of the best-run defenses in the league in the coming weeks.
A win is a win is a win, but the Rams offense still has a way to go to be the 30-point-a-game team they want to be.