Cardinals’ Most Overlooked Battle Against Rams

Getty Images J.J. Watt celebrates with Markus Golden after a sack against the Jaguars on September 26, 2021.

The number of topics and battles in the matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams in Week 4 almost feel endless.

Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford squaring off in what appears to be an early MVP race. The Rams devasting defense line starting with Aaron Donald against an offensive line with injuries. Both teams have playmakers galore that can do defenses dirty at all times. The Jalen Ramsey versus DeAndre Hopkins matchup. And of course, Sean McVay’s sustained success against the Cardinals, going 8-0 since he’s taken the Rams job.

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So what are we missing?

There’s one aspect to watch that is not as sexy as the battles that were just mentioned.

Battle Against Rams’ Offensive Line

The Rams’ offensive line has been one of the best in the league.

Hunter Hodies of Rams Digest on Sports Illustrated had this to say about the Rams offensive front against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stafford’s offensive line has only allowed one sack (which was halfway through the fourth quarter) and eight hurries throughout the whole contest. He also was only pressured on 18.4% of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. To make matters even better, Stafford had only been pressured on 20.3% of his dropbacks for the first two games. If that keeps up, it would be the first time since 2011 that his pressured rate would be less than 25%.

The Rams faced a dominant Buccaneers defensive front and held them in check in Week 3. Center Brian Allen allowed just one pressure for the entire game.

The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin also showed how lethal the Rams offensive line is compared to the rest of the league. The Rams are third in the league in pass block win rate and second to the Cardinals in pass block grade according to Pro Football Focus.

Right guard Austin Corbett has been a great find for the Rams. The lineman was drafted 33rd by the Browns in 2017 and was traded to the Rams for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

He ranks second in pass block win rate according to ESPN.

You can’t forget about veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. This is a Rams offense that can feast if Stafford gets time in the pocket. When a team only allows one sack per game, that usually leads to success.

The 3-0 start speaks for itself.

Cardinals Defensive Response

Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will have to find ways of exploiting the Rams offensive line. The Cardinals only had two sacks against the Jaguars in Week 3. After a dominating five-sack performance in Week 1, Chandler Jones hasn’t had a sack since.

But Joseph knows there’s more to it than sacks.

“The sacks sometimes aren’t what speaks to him playing well,” Joseph said. “Last week he had four or five quarterback hits, he had a caused interception that we dropped. He did play well last week.”

J.J. Watt remains without a sack in 2021. But there was plenty of instances of his impact against the Jaguars.

Joseph loves to use the blitzes for his advantage and that’s what has worked in both second halves against the Vikings and Jaguars. The Cardinals have only given up two touchdowns through the second halves in three games.

But the Rams are a different breed.

“It’s going to be a tough out,” Joseph said. “But our team’s working hard, looking forward to the challenge.”

Linebacker Jordan Hicks got the final sack to end the 31-19 victory. It might take different ways of pressuring Stafford and that includes Isaiah Simmons on the edge.

The Rams can easily use screens against the Cardinals to counter a pass rush with Kupp and even tight end Tyler Higbee, who’s been used a lot in that area.

There’s little margin for error between the two teams. The Rams offensive line against the Cardinals pass rush will be an intriguing battle to watch that could easily affect the game.

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