Insights from Rams win over Cardinals in the NFL playoffs

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The Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” in Week 14, keeping the NFC West competition alive and changing the NFL playoff picture. In the race for perhaps the league’s deepest division, the 9-4 Rams currently lead the 10-3 Cardinals by only one game. The Arizona Cardinals fell to third place in the National Football Conference (NFC) after their Week 14 loss, trailing the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers enjoy the head-to-head advantage over the Cardinals after a win earlier this season.

The concern over the Rams’ offense is exaggerated. Matthew Stafford is getting back into form thanks to a brilliant offense that moved Cooper Kupp around to get him open Monday night. Odell Beckham Jr. is regaining his footing and appears to be looking more like the superstar he once was than he has in the last four years (on Monday night, he posted his fastest top speed as a ball carrier since tearing his ACL last season).

Rams win over Cardinals, Insights from Rams win over Cardinals in the NFL playoffs
Insights from Rams win over Cardinals in the NFL playoffs

The Detroit Lions’ disgruntled face at the time, McVay and Stafford developed a relationship after both were ousted from the playoffs and happened to be on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the same time. They banded together with the hopes of participating in meaningful games in January and beyond. On Monday, the Rams’ 34-11 win against the Arizona Cardinals in the N.F.C.’s wild-card round was a critical step toward that objective, given it was Stafford’s first playoff win in his 13-year career.

The Rams become far more dangerous when Cam Akers is healthy. Akers made an unexpected comeback from a summer Achilles injury to re-energize a Rams rushing attack that had devolved into a two-headed monster with Akers and Sony Michel. On Monday night, Akers and Michel combined for 113 yards on 30 carries, and while neither reached the end zone, they contributed. 

Because we already know what Kupp is capable of and Beckham is only growing stronger with age, this was the component of the Rams’ attack that most needed to be bolstered. When you combine that with a legitimate rushing assault, you have an offensive monster that can be one-half of a frightening football team in January.

Beckham, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career following his high-profile exit from the Cleveland Browns, snagged his first playoff touchdown and added style points with a 40-yard connection to Akers a third-quarter scoring drive. However, Akers was dissatisfied with its precision while the ball hung in the air.

Tight end Zach Ertz and receiver A.J. Green, who was acquired this season, combined for only 21 yards, and veteran defensive end J.J. Watt, who had been out since Week 7 due to a shoulder injury, made three tackles in his comeback.

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