The Los Angeles Rams have quite possibly stumbled on the blueprint for success for the remainder of the season. It couldn’t have come at a better time facing the NFC West division-leading and league’s most successful team, the Arizona Cardinals as well as the home stretch of the 2021 NFL season.
The division showdown almost fell perfectly on the Monday night extravaganza, featuring two of the top receivers in Cooper Kupp and DeAndre Hopkins. Also headlining were two of the league’s most talented top-tier quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray. In fact, at full strength, this game would have enough star power to be played out as an epic motion picture. Sadly, this took a turn for the worse when it was announced that Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey would miss this major event being out on NFL COVID-19 protocol. This, in even the most NFL-educated eyes, made the contest look decidedly one-sided in the Cardinals favor. But as the saying goes, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men’ …and it was never in the Rams plans to throw in the towel.
Los Angeles Rams Deserve More Respect Looking Forward
It was the second and final regular-season game of these divisional foes. The first, a convincing 37-20 trouncing of the Rams by the Cardinals that signaled in neon the return of Arizona to post-season play for the first time since 2015. The team, in fact, found themselves in a win-and-you’re-in situation. In some Arizona circles, a victory was a foregone conclusion and the Rams division title hopes were ‘hanging by one last string. But this time around things would be different.
How the NFC West was not won in Week 14
That Week 4 slap in the face could be described as a shock to the system. The then new-life Arizona Cardinals looked a lot like little cockroaches scurrying about when the SoFi lights came on. The Rams had no answer and it’s safe to say that Sean McVay was outcoached and the team was outmaneuvered. McVay will likely always take the brunt of bad publicity for his team. The reality is, he will usually attempt to make lemonade when holding lemons. He doesn’t have the patience for much else.
Three Reasons Why the Rams will Earn Respect Going Forward
Reason 1: Acquisitions
Yes. It looks like they gave up too much hope for edge rusher/linebacker Von Miller long-term. A closer look shows more speed up front where it is needed to face the Murrays of the world. It just wasn’t enough for Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd to be the sack threats. Donald has moved around quite a bit but is largely ineffective. Greg Gaines is stout against the run but too slow overall to offset the numerous double and triple-teaming (and holding) done to Donald.
While the Week 14 match-up still saw its share of magical escapes and daring feats by air from Murray and Company, it was hardly the mismatch of their first game. The Rams were quicker and now having Week 4 footage to study, their reaction time was quicker, too. Their confidence was also higher, noticeably. There was a plan in place and while the rest of us were outside the bubble semi-panicking, the Rams trusted the process of learning and growing.
Miller’s resume demands opponents come with respect. Just like that, a somewhat imbalanced defensive front becomes one of the most balanced in the league.
Reason 2: Promotions
It first appeared to be a bad move trading Kenny Young, that moment in time’s best linebacker to the Denver Broncos but this, too, shall pass.
With the elite-level pressure, the Rams can now force upon opposing quarterbacks and with Jalen Ramsey essentially having what appears to be his best season, more turnovers aren’t just inevitable, they are happening now. Promoted linebacker Ernest Jones got his second professional interception against the Cardinals and it was a crucial one. What’s more, this is not as new to him as he also did it in college. The experience is no doubt the reason Jones looks so fluid for a rookie in picking off a pass then quickly transitioning to offensive player bolting back upfield. Young was not as talented in this area and turnovers are far more important in postseason play than tackle totals. Yet and still, a Young-Jones tandem would’ve been a bit more awesome than Jones-Reeder.
Reason 3: Delusions
Or lack thereof, to be exact.
The Rams and McVay, suddenly a pass-happy greatest show on turf wannabe team? That never really existed. It was an illusion on all our parts, we the outsiders. McVay could not and will not ever say it aloud but I have no such responsibility so I will; Darrell Henderson (or anyone else currently on the team, for that matter) is not Cam Akers. Having said that, McVay’s dream game plans were limited to what the offense can be without Akers just as the Rams passing game is limited without Robert Woods bringing his to the table.
McVay truly loves the passing game (again, because he lacks patience at times) but understands how the run game helps his aspirations, not delusions. And the pick-up of Sony Michel makes up for the loss of the only other strength back on the roster in recent years, Malcolm Brown. Jake Funk might’ve filled this void in time but a strong running rookie addition could be on the 2022 horizon.
In any case, it’s likely Henderson won’t grip his starting role back anytime soon and it really is for the better. His stride is too choppy and upright at times and Michel finishes his runs the likes needed in grueling playoff football.
The Rams are in a good place to be down the stretch and the victory over the Cardinals screams of reemerging relevance. They are now the team no one will want to play when it counts.
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