Why the Los Angeles Rams’ big-name defense needs to make a statement vs. the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.
It’s always dangerous to build things up too much in your mind. Disappointment can inevitably follow. The feeling was palpable while watching the Los Angeles Rams beat the Oakland Raiders 33-13 in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season.
While the Rams showed great resilience to battle back on the road, I couldn’t helped be underwhelmed by their big-name defense. A unit bolstered by the arrivals of tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib didn’t necessarily have a poor game.
It just didn’t dominate the way it should have.
The Rams and their big names on defense can and must make a statement at home to 0-1 NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. Why the need for a statement performance, you ask?
It’s simple. The Rams retooled their D’ to bring the unit up to par with an explosive offense. Being dominant on both sides of the ball is supposed the make the league’s hot team Super Bowl bound this season.
Yet for most of the game against the Silver and Black Suh and Co. found themselves downright bullied. The Raiders ran well against what should be an impregnable interior comprised of Suh, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.
The Oakland passing game was even clicking until some late generosity from Derek Carr undid all the good work. Carr’s trio of telegraphed interceptions wasted the 303 yards he also put up through the air.
They also wasted a nine-catch, 180-yard effort from tight end Jared Cook, as well as nine grabs for 55 yards by running back Jalen Richard.
Maybe it seems like nitpicking, but it was sobering to see the Raiders make this much hay against a defense so talented. Especially when the group is overseen by Wade Phillips, the best defensive coordinator in football.
When the Rams gave Phillips Suh, Talib and Peters, I had visions of something close to the level of dominance his 2015 Denver Broncos achieved. Okay, so this Rams team doesn’t have edge-rushers on a level with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, making sense of attempts to beat the Bears to Khalil Mack.
Even so, there’s a feeling of much more to come from this Rams defense.
Fortunately, the Cardinals will provide Phillips and his players with the ideal chance to make a statement. The way Arizona’s offense was pushed all over the field by the Washington Redskins in Week 1 is an ominous sign for head coach Steve Wilks.
Washington roughed up the Cards with a rugged front four led by tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. Things will be even tougher against Suh, Donald and Brockers, who, in fairness, did turn up the heat during the second half in the Black Hole.
Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford look rattled by the pressure. The brittle veteran also struggled to identify potential blitzes pre-snap.
Phillips can take advantage of this by dialling up more pressure than he did for most of Week 1.
If the Cardinals have one hope for moving the ball, it will be to exploit running backs David Johnson and rookie Chase Edmonds in the passing game.
Isolating running backs against linebackers can be the Achilles’ heel for Phillips’ schemes, and both Johnson and Edmonds are excellent receivers. Releasing them on pass routes will also prevent ‘Green Dogs,’ the blitzes Rams’ linebackers are allowed to execute if their man-coverage responsibilities stay in the backfield.
Phillips made some nice adjustments last week. He kept Cook relatively quiet after halftime, either by putting Talib over him when the formation allowed, or by using a linebacker to double up with safety John Johnson.
The Rams also rushed the middle more often in the second half, helping to create single blocking on either Suh or Donald.
Similar ploys can work against the Cardinals. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is pass-happy and won’t hesitate to put a vulnerable Bradford in the firing line of what threatens to be a swarming pass rush.
The Rams were solid defensively, nothing more, in Week 1. But if this group is going to lift Jared Goff and Todd Gurley to a Lombardi Trophy, it must start dominating opponents.