Los Angeles Rams: Is It Possible to Slow Down Kyler Murray and the Cardinals?

Rams Defensive Scouting Report: Week 4

by Tommy Mo
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The Los Angeles Rams are 3-0 as they head into Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals. The defense has played a big role in that, only allowing 20 points once, with the Buccaneers eclipsing that mark late in the fourth quarter in garbage time. The Arizona Cardinals will bring a new challenge. Let’s jump into this week’s defensive game plan.

Los Angeles Rams Week 3 Recap

The Week 3 Defensive Game Plan was simple, focus on Tom Brady and the passing attack. That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Rams defense did in Week 3. Stopping Tom Brady and his bevvy of talented wide receivers was not going to be easy. However, the entire defense stepped up and got the job done.

The game started with a defensive game of chess with both teams shutting the opposing offense out in the opening quarter. The first five possessions resulted in a punt, but both teams’ offenses picked it up in the second and third quarters.

While the teams were exchanging touchdowns and field goals, the Rams were able to pull out ahead as the defense forced a punt and turnover on downs to start the second half.

Employing a bend but don’t break mentality, while getting after Tom Brady and not giving up the big play in the secondary, paid off. The Buccaneers run game was nonexistent and despite how good Tom Brady is, the Los Angeles Rams defense made plays when it counted.

The Cardinals Offense

The Cardinals sit at 3-0  tied for first in the NFC West. They are led by Kyler Murray, who’s currently putting a case together for league MVP thanks to his combination of passing/rushing ability. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the NFL thanks to his “Konami Code” style of play.

The Cardinals boast the second best offense in the NFL after there weeks, in terms of yards per game. They are also tied for first with Tampa Bay in points per game. The Cardinals are 11th overall in rushing yards per game led by the duo of Chase Edmonds and James Conner, with Kyler Murray contributing 70 rushing yards.

On the passing attack, Murray has been spreading the ball around to seven different receivers, with surprisingly Christian Kirk leading the way. Week 4 will be another tough test for the Los Angeles Rams defense. Not only is this Cardinals offense just as good, if not better than the Bucs, but it’s a division rival jockeying for the lead spot.

The Offensive Line

The Cardinals’ offensive line has been good but not great. Their pass protection has been better than they’re run blocking. However, that’s only because their pass blocking is top-10 in multiple metrics. They are number three overall in pass blocking efficiency per Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders also ranks them eighth in adjusted sack rate (4.8%). They are also fourth overall in the Pressure Coefficient calculated by The Undroppables OL guru Brad Wire.

Overall, the Cardinals offensive line is pretty fantastic at protecting Kyler Murray. They are giving Murray the fifth most time to throw in the league with an average 2.94 seconds. It also helps that Kyler is really good at buying additional time to throw through scrambling.

From a run perspective, the offensive line is 12th in adjusted line yards, which indicates they are moving the line of scrimmage back and giving the running backs opportunities to get downfield. However, they have struggled to find success creating second level yards as they rank 19th. They also struggled to find open field yards, ranking 27th. Their longest run this season by any ball carrier, has been 16 yards.

They have had some turnover for the backups on the offensive line recently as several players were signed last week. Meanwhile Josh Miles was placed on IR and they released Brian Winters. The five starters remain but if there any other injuries, the Cardinals now have new backups that will have to step in if needed. Offensive line continuity is crucial for success in the NFL, so the Cardinals are hoping everyone stays healthy.

The Run Game

Like the Buccaneers last week, the running game has not been a strength of this Cardinals offense. However, unlike the Buccaneers, the run game is performing well enough to keep opposing offenses honest. The Cardinals have five rushing touchdowns, three of which came from Kyler Murray.

Murray is a player that must be considered a threat to run the ball at all times.  Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense is definitely pass-heavy, but teams have to employ a successful run game in order to ease pressure off the passing attack.

As a duo, Chase Edmonds and James Conner have been seeing a 36-42 split of the backfield carries with Murray contributing  to 20% of the rushing attack. Edmonds and Conner are ranked 27th and 32nd in yards, and are in a similar range for rushing yards over expected per Next Gen Stats.

Overall, they haven’t been great despite only facing 8+ defenders in the box an average of 24% of the time. The one bright spot, besides Murray being so dynamic, is James Conner is seventh overall in efficiency. He’s doing the most when he gets the ball in his hands.

The elusiveness of Edmonds cannot be measured in statistics but what he’s put on tape. Conner is currently outproducing and out-touching Edmonds. However, Edmonds may continue to get more touches as the running back that fits better into this scheme. Until one guy starts significantly making more plays, we’ll continue to see a pretty even split.

The Passing Attack

It should no longer be seen as controversial that Kyler Murray is elite. His passing ability has caught up to his rushing prowess and he’s showing the NFL that he truly is elite. Murray currently sits in third in passing yards behind Tom Brady and Derek Carr. He’s running Kingsbury’s offense perfectly now in his third year in the system.

Murray is also third in completion percentage with 76.5% of his passes caught, and 13th in completed air yards. He’s providing catchable passes to a variety of pass catchers on the team.

The passing attack is performing exactly how Kingsbury has wanted it to. Murray’s average yards per attempt and yards per completion are on pace to be the highest of his career. He’s spreading the ball around with six receivers already seeing double digit targets.

A.J. Green is leading in targets with 18 with Maxx Williams rounding it out with 11. Surprisingly Deandre Hopkins is fourth on the target list. Guys like Kirk and Chase Edmonds are finding opportunities to get open due to Hopkins drawing attention. That’s what makes this offense so dangerous – everyone gets involved.

Rookie Rondale Moore is also currently performing well. He leads the league in separation, yards after the catch, and yards after the catcher per reception. Moore is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Los Angeles Rams Defensive Game Plan

It won’t be enough this week to simply try and stop Kyler Murray and the passing game. The rushing attack and this offensive line is good enough to make plays. Even if it’s just Murray making those running plays, he’ll find a way to get outside and score.

The defense this week needs a full team effort. The biggest task for the defensive line will be to get pressure on Murray and also to contain him. The edge rushers need to be solid in their fundamentals to not let the Cardinals quarterback get outside and pressure him up the middle.

Sebastian Joseph-Day and Aaron Donald will need to be at their best this week at penetrating a very good pass blocking offensive line.

Additionally, the defense needs to force turnovers. Murray has already thrown four interceptions on the season and the Los Angeles Rams will need at least two this game to really slow down this high-powered offense. Players like Kenny Young and A’shawn Robinson will need to step up and make plays like they did last week.

Because the Cardinals passing attack is so potent, the Rams’ secondary will once again need to step up to the challenge to lock down five pass catchers that can all make plays. Like last week, the secondary cannot give up the big play. Let Murray dink and dunk in front of the safeties, but keep track of everyone and don’t let them complete anything deep. Especially when it comes to players like Rondale Moore and Maxx Williams who can go unnoticed.

With the Los Angeles Rams offense continuing to put points on the board, the key for the Rams defense will be to simply slow down the Cardinals to get the win.

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