Rams Stomp Cards to Advance in Playoffs
NFL Wild Card - Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday (or other days during the playoffs), we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Arizona Cardinals 11 at Los Angeles Rams 34
Rivers McCown: Two drives for Arizona and their best play is Kyler Murray escaping pressure and winging the ball down the field into a crowd of Cardinals who didn't catch it. Not a great start!
Scott Spratt: It was amazing that running back Cam Akers played at all in Week 18 after tearing his Achilles tendon not even six months prior. But he was a clear backup to Sony Michel last week. Not so far today. Akers has out-carried Michel five to three on the Rams' first two drives.
Vince Verhei: As someone who drafted Michel in the staff fantasy league, I am acutely aware of which Rams are getting carries.
Matthew Stafford hits Odell Beckham for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Two drives for each team and the Rams are up 95-3 in total yardage.
Scott Spratt: I don't think you need to sweat the touch distribution, Vince. With six Rams on your playoff fantasy roster, you should win if the Rams win the Super Bowl. Assuming Rivers doesn't annihilate us by next week with Josh Allen and company.
Bryan Knowles: The ManningCast is fascinating right now, because Larry Fitzgerald is explaining why Odell Beckham is working in Los Angeles when he didn't really work out in Cleveland—the Rams making better use of OBJ's ability to high-point the ball in the red zone being first and foremost. And yup, that's Beckham leaping over rookie Marco Wilson to make the first touchdown of the game.
Carl Yedor: It isn't usually a great sign when you're busting out the trick plays to try to convert third-and-long deep in your own end. The Cardinals have gained yards on three separate plays to this point and are still looking for their first first down.
Aaron Schatz: I think the lateral across the field was a great play call though. It worked. Christian Kirk just threw it a half-yard too far forward.
Carl Yedor: Oh absolutely, it was well designed and just a hair away from being a huge conversion, but if you are looking to use something like a cross-field lateral there instead of in shot-play territory, it often means you haven't been having a lot of success attacking them straight up. Although with how this game has started, maybe getting the Rams to pause and think more will buy the Arizona offense some time for Murray to make something happen down the field.
Derrik Klassen: D.J. Humphries was rough in the last week of the season against Carlos Dunlap. Supremely different kinds of opponents here with Von Miller and Leonard Floyd, but it's not surprising he has already given up a sack (to Miller). Cardinals have to do better on first down to help keep Humpries and Co. out of more obvious intermediate/deep passing situations.
Vince Verhei: We have replaced the Arizona Cardinals offense with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let's watch!
Rivers McCown: I think the Cardinals sources are definitely worried:
A #Cardinals source told me before the game their winning formula is to have 25+ rushes from their RBs in a game & no turnovers in the matchup. They emphasized, "if we do that, the #Rams have no chance." 5-0 this season when they combine those metrics.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) January 18, 2022
Vince Verhei: It's the end of the first quarter, and the Rams have extended their lead in total yardage to 122 to -3.
Aaron Schatz: Arizona was average in adjusted line yards on defense and No. 4 in stuffing runners at the line. But they are getting killed in the run game tonight.
Vince Verhei: Their run stats were so weird. Great at stuffing runners but vulnerable to big plays. I haven't really studied their schemes, but it feels like they blitz their inside linebackers a lot, giving them a boom-and-bust kind of front. That's definitely the result they're getting early.
Carl Yedor: I'm not sure if we have this tracked in any way, but it sure feels like the Rams burn a lot of timeouts getting to the line of scrimmage late/trying to avoid delay of game. Would love it if someone has access to the actual number of times it happens to see whether that's just anecdotal or not.
Aaron Schatz: Nope, it's not just anecdotal.
— Michael Lopez (@StatsbyLopez) January 18, 2022
Dave Bernreuther: I said this by email yesterday during the 49ers game but it's definitely official now: my staff fantasy league team, which I hated to begin with, is so dead in the water that I am now actively hoping to set an unbreakable record for fewest points gained. In fact, if this touchdown by Sony Michel stands, I am going to hope that he—my 2018 staff fantasy draft MVP, if I remember correctly—outscores my entire 2021 staff fantasy draft team.
In my defense (since Bryan and Andrew didn't print any of my comments last week while dragging me), every possible stack that was left by the time I drafted had serious flaws. I decided that despite McVay's past success, I still wasn't comfortable betting on Stafford if I could get a piece of Murray's variance and sure-to-win potential if the Cards turned it around.
Looks like they ruled Michel short as I typed that. But my comments still stand: I am actively rooting against my team, which I guess means I'm a big fan of Team Vince.
That makes it two years in a row that the Rams have buried my contrarian NFC West stack in the first round.
Rivers McCown: The ManningCast is absolutely dragging Stafford's quarterback sneaking ability.
Bryan Knowles: And they're right to do so!
Of course, the Rams only got the chance to show us Stafford's amazing ability to push the line 2 inches at a time thanks to Odell Beckham becoming entirely uncovered on a wheel route out of the slot. I would suggest to Arizona that covering OBJ might be key if they want to get back into this one.
Blown coverage on the post/wheel. pic.twitter.com/dSfyOvYOmm
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 18, 2022
Dave Bernreuther: I'm curious about what the future of the ManningCast holds. I'm as pro-Manning as anyone, but I still find it sort of awkward and cringe-worthy at times, in need of better pacing and some occasional play-by-play. What do we think might be the future there? Add a PBP guy and make them be more of a standard booth team? Let them retain their commute-free easy gig but somehow add about 10% to 20% more structure? (And if so, how?)
Vince Verhei: It's funny that Stafford is not good at sneaks considering this is one of his most famous plays.
As for the ManningCast, I remain a huge fan, ESPECIALLY when it goes wrong.
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) January 18, 2022
Rivers McCown: Well, he is playing with that "toe" injury. Wouldn't be surprised if that was a factor here.
Scott Spratt: I don't have the perfect play charting to calculate this, but Matthew Stafford scored on eight of his 12 non-scramble carries from the 1-yard line since 2009. That doesn't seem so bad, even if he looks super bad trying.
Aaron Schatz: Cardinals can't get anybody open. Third-and-17, and Murray gets time to throw, the offensive line actually holds up against four, and he has to dump off to Rondale Moore for 6 yards.
Vince Verhei: Preceded by Aaron Donald getting a sack on first down, and Murray scrambling and throwing a pass to nobody in the middle of the field on second down. Cards look genuinely awful so far.
Scott Spratt: And now Cam Akers is lining up out wide and running go routes! That play would have been huge if either Stafford hit Akers in stride or Akers saw the ball sooner.
Bryan Knowles: I'm fairly sure waiting a full 60 seconds—and counting—after a play is over to rule either catch or incomplete is not what the NFL wants from a pace of play perspective.
Rivers McCown: How about with a challenge on top?
Bryan Knowles: Sean McVay, turning to the guys in New York and going "no, you guys got it wrong, overrule yourselves." Good luck with that.
Scott Spratt: It does have vibes of suspended players appealing their suspensions to the NFL offices that suspended them in the first place, Bryan.
Bryan Knowles: … except it worked! Well, this is why one of us is a professional football coach, and the other writes Loser League.
Scott Spratt: Usually it's Matthew Stafford that throws interceptions inside his own 20-yard line.
Dave Bernreuther: I think that Rams defensive touchdown there just hurt Vince's fantasy team, even as a Rams D manager. Now he only gets credit for one touchdown instead of two.
Rivers McCown: Me before this game started: So happy that J.J. Watt gets to play for a real team in the playoffs.
Me now: *Sigh of despair*
Vince Verhei: We got an email this week about our playoff odds, and why the Cardinals' chances of winning the Super Bowl were so low and … well …
PICK-6. TO THE HOUSE. #RAMSHOUSE.
— NFL (@NFL) January 18, 2022
It's 21-0 and the Cards still have negative total yardage.
Bryan Knowles: Speaking of Loser League!
I'd like to thank the Cincinnati Bengals, Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys for actually providing competitive football this week, because that appears to be the lot.
Dave Bernreuther: Several prominent writers have mentioned that last year's playoffs were full of un-competitive games, with Bills-Colts being really the only good one that we got. So far we're not off to a much better start this year; the Cardinals don't look like they belong any more than either Pennsylvania team did. Kyler Murray just threw ANOTHER interception, while we're still talking about the last one, and the Cardinals, who were never an especially amazing 7-0 or 10-2 team, but even so … they just look awful. And J.J. Watt's return has done nothing for them.
I really thought that Vance Joseph could be relied on to put together a defense that pestered Stafford and slowed down the Rams' offense. So far that has not been the case, and the offense hasn't helped matters at all. This makes two Cardinals-Rams games that I have gotten just completely, hilariously wrong this season. (Early on, I thought the Rams would blow them out. Nope!) I had the Rams in the December matchup too, and it's not like the Cardinals have gotten any better since then, so…
Vince Verhei: We have replaced the Pittsburgh Steelers offense that had replaced the Arizona Cardinals offense with the New York Giants. Let's watch!
Rivers McCown: How'd everyone do on yesterday's Wordle?
Bryan Knowles: The record for fewest yards in a playoff game, in case anyone is wondering for some strange reason, is 78, set by the 2014 Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals against the Panthers in the wild-card round. The Murray version is sitting at 40 at halftime, so I think they'll get past the Lindley Lads. I think.
Dave Bernreuther: After I mention bad playoff games, it's appropriate that you mention that one, Bryan. I remember it well. TOO well, really, given how painful it was to watch. Games like that and the Connor Cook disaster give me a new appreciation for this weekend's non-competitive games.
Scott Spratt: I remember it and rather enjoy it.
Vince Verhei: Halftime yardage update: Rams 180, Cardinals 40. The quiet part of this game is that the Rams had two very good drives and four bad ones—four punts, including three three-and-outs. Cooper Kupp has one catch for 5 yards. Arizona's defense is keeping them alive right now, though there's a huge difference between "alive" and "healthy."
Bryan Knowles: I suppose the reason to keep watching this one, at least for a bit, is that the Rams are just coming off of a big second-half collapse to an NFC West rival team. If only Kyler Murray could play as well as Jimmy Garoppolo, said no one ever.
Tom Gower: Rams up 21-0 at the half, and it feels like a Chiefs multi-score halftime lead rather than the 49ers' multi-score halftime lead. The Cardinals didn't have the Steelers' all-punt first half, mixing it up with a couple of interceptions. And they had multiple gains of double-digit yards, so it's not like their longest play of the first half was only 8 yards (it was 11). The offensive line didn't create holes in the run game early, it appeared to me, and they have been leaky in pass pro. Credit, also, the Rams' pass coverage. Not all of the pressure Kyler has been getting has been quick; he has been holding the ball forever, and I'm assuming at least some of that has been due to coverage, or at least I expect Peyton and Eli would be freaking out about it more if he'd just been blatantly ignoring wide-open guys. And without DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals don't seem to have any jump-ball receivers (or maybe just a good one, because I'm not sure what A.J. Green is right now).
On the other side of the ball, we have seen the Rams gash the Cardinals on the ground, but only some of the time; Akers is only 10-36, after all. And Stafford only has 93 yards passing at the half. They went three-and-out their last three drives of the first half. But the pick-six obscured that a little, so maybe this is more like Eagles-Bucs. Subjectively, though, the Rams have hit some big plays. They have gashed them on the ground. And Cooper Kupp has barely been a factor at all, and it's hard to see that remaining true for the entire game. I'd like to say this game isn't over. But I spent time in the first half thinking about whether this would be a worse game of quarterbacking than Ryan Lindley's 2014 performance against Carolina, and how I should adjust for Lindley's hopelessness versus Kyler's more personal skill-dependent play, and other fun thoughts like that.
Vince Verhei: Rams take the second-half kickoff and drive 75 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. Kupp with two catches on the drive for only 11 yards, but he did get the third-and-goal touchdown, a nice low grab of a ball off his shoelaces. So it's 28-0 now and the gap between "healthy" and "alive" has only grown wider.
Scott Spratt: It's early in the second half and the Rams have graduated into their version of letting Travis Kelce throw touchdowns because it's fun.
throw-dell beckham jr.
— NFL (@NFL) January 18, 2022
Carl Yedor: Arizona gets on the board (finally), which is nice for them, but at this point I am mostly just hoping that no one gets hurt or does anything stupid. Things are starting to get chippy, so there's a chance we might see an ejection at some point should there be continued scuffles from here on out. The Cardinals successfully convert a two-point conversion and make it 28-8.
… And of course, after I type that, Cam Akers and Budda Baker collide in the open field at full speed, with both players lowering their shoulders to try to deliver a blow. Akers' shoulder hits Baker's head, and Baker is now down on the field and being stretchered off. Scary sight.
Rivers McCown: I realize that he may not have fully digested that Baker was limp, but Akers taunting on that one as he was down definitely made me feel a way.
Speaking of Akers—it's absolutely wild that he tore his Achilles in the summer and looks as explosive as he does today. They're running him on routes down the sideline! And he's winning!
Vince Verhei: Down 31-8 in the fourth quarter, it's fourth-and-20, and you're trying a 55-yard field goal. Every single one of those numbers is depressing for Arizona. At least the kick was good.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know about our model but ESPN's model had the field goal as the right move. 0.3% win probability vs. 0.2% win probability.
Vince Verhei: Russell Wilson on the ManningCast ranting about how and why holding penalties are "the worst call in football" has been the most entertaining thing in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Knowles: And this is why they shouldn't change the ManningCast, adding a play-by-play guy or anything like that. So long as they're more selective in the quality of guests they have on, you get moments like that, which is exactly what I want from a second broadcast.
Pity they couldn't have had a more competitive game to watch.
Vince Verhei: All kidding aside, Wilson's dissection of match coverages and how they work was smarter than 99% of what you'll hear on any other broadcast.
Tom Gower: After the three second-quarter three-and-outs, the Cardinals have returned to the previous five quarters of defense against the Rams, allowing a score on the first three-second half possessions (and a key comeback-related point: between the Rams running 24 plays across the three drives and Arizona taking 22 plays on their two scoring drives, the Cardinals only have had three possessions in the first 28 minutes of the second half, not ideal when you're down 21-0 at the half). And Arizona hasn't started past their own 25 all night, so despite some second-half offensive production, this will go into the books as another thoroughgoing butt-whooping.