On Sunday, something had to give. Two undefeated teams. A battle for the top spot in the NFC West. If not for Tom Brady’s return, the clash between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams might have been a Primetime showdown. The Arizona Cardinals delivered a statement victory in the 37-20 beatdown of their division rivals. Sean McVay has been Arizona’s boogeyman since arriving in Los Angeles, boasting a perfect 8-0 record against the Cardinals. However, Arizona was stifling on defense and efficient on offense, escaping with the win and giving McVay the first black mark on his record against Arizona.
Kyler Murray put in his most mature performance in a Cardinals uniform, with fellow 2019 draft picks Jalen Thompson and Byron Murphy playing significant roles in stopping the most potent facets of McVay’s offense. With Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph both calling excellent games from the sideline, the Arizona Cardinals were comprehensive in claiming sole possession to lead the NFC West.
Arizona Cardinals Deliver Statement Victory Against Los Angeles Rams
Stifling Stafford on Defense
Matthew Stafford is the new shiny thing for the Rams. Stafford’s arm talent has provided McVay’s offense with a near-indefensible weapon. In a system that has already proved effective against the Cardinals, Stafford was the Rams biggest threat heading in.
Except Stafford didn’t play up to standard. His fruitful connection with Cooper Kupp, in particular, was frayed throughout the game. Overthrows from Stafford and drops from Kupp stalled the Rams on offense and took away what has been their most consistent element in the passing game so far this season.
The best parts of McVay’s offense are complementary, opening up opportunities for one another. The deep ball opens up Kupp underneath, and vice versa. Thompson had a vital role in containing the Rams offense on Sunday. His presence on the back end of Arizona’s defense negated the downfield potential for Stafford’s arm. DeSean Jackson, Stafford’s usual deep ball guy, had only one reception for six yards and, on his only downfield target, Murphy came up with the interception.
Subsequently, Stafford hardly threw deep and was resigned to throwing underneath, allowing the Cardinals to come up and make plays. Thompson was everywhere, coming up to cover and contribute as a tackler. He put in his best performance in a Cardinals uniform when his team needed it most and played a significant if underappreciated role in shutting down McVay and Stafford on Sunday.
Mature Performance from Murray
Murray has been electrifying this season. Yet, in his performance against the Rams, the Cardinals quarterback was a consummate professional. Yes, he contributed the usual highlights, juking linebackers and charging down the field. However, gone was the erraticism; gone was the constant fear of Aaron Donald. Murray stood in behind his patchwork offensive line and tossed the ball all over the field. In this game, Murray was cool, calm, and collected the entire game.
In 2020, Murray’s reliance on DeAndre Hopkins, shadowed by the NFL’s best corner in Jalen Ramsey, saw a one-dimensional offense falter against the Rams. However, in 2021, Murray’s ability to utilize the range of his receiving arsenal opened saw several players contribute on Sunday. The potency of Arizona’s depth options saw Ramsey unable to lock in on Hopkins, and Hopkins was able to rack up some catches and yards after a slow couple of weeks. He was one of three Arizona receivers to post over sixty receiving yards in the game.
Against the Rams, Murray played a clean game. He spread the wealth, showcased his game-breaking athletic ability, and, perhaps most importantly, cut out the third-quarter interception that has plagued him through three games this season. He’s had statistically better performances, but as a signal-caller, this might have been Murray’s best as a professional.
Credit Where Credit’s Due for Kingsbury and Joseph
The coaching staff of the Cardinals called an excellent game. For Kingsbury, it was possibly his most consistent game as Arizona’s head coach. His usual apology for a bad play call was pleasantly absent in post-game media. His offense played in rhythm and controlled the game down the stretch. Kingsbury has evolved from the Air Raid offense to an NFL offense featuring varied Air Raid concepts. Rondale Moore featured in the backfield, and a screen call to Maxx Williams, out of a trips alignment, was one of the best calls of the game, but Kingsbury’s ability to keep the offense on schedule while his defense shut down Stafford ultimately won the game.
Joseph complemented Kingsbury throughout the game. His defense was able to give Kingsbury the ball back and allowed the offense to control the game. As good of a quarterback as Stafford may be, the disguise Joseph integrated into his coverages caused the Rams quarterback to hold the ball far too long. Arizona’s defensive coordinator designed the defense to take away LA’s most potent offensive weapons, and his players delivered. Joseph also deserves credit for limiting the use of Zaven Collins in the game; against the complexity of LA’s offense, Jordan Hicks was the better option, with Collins playing only four snaps.
The Cardinals played their best game of the season to preserve their undefeated record in a massive divisional clash. Arizona was comprehensive, performing in every phase of the game for a vital win. 4-0. On to San Francisco.
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