Everyone knew about the Cardinals’ past history against the Rams. Coach Sean McVay was 8-0 in his tenure against the Cardinals before their October 3 clash. But Coach Kliff Kingsbury had no interest in any of those storylines.
“That’s what we tried to avoid all week,” Kingsbury said. “Just get a week better.”
And that’s what they did. They’re now undefeated and according to NFL Hall-of-Famer Gil Brandt, they’re the fourth team since the NFL merger in 1970 to start 4-0 with 30 or more points and accumulate more than 400 total yards in each game. Each of those teams’ quarterbacks won MVP and made the Super Bowl that season.
Murray and the Cardinals’ playmakers got into a groove against the Rams. But who was the kingpin of their dominance?
Kingsbury Deserves Tons of Credit
According to ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss, Murray on October 4 said their game plan against the Rams was the best he’s seen during his time in the NFL.
That’s largely in the hands of Coach Kingsbury. After two years of mediocre offense, The Athletic’s Mike Sando says Kingsbury’s performance against the Rams was a breakthrough moment.
Kingsbury has struggled to shake the skepticism that followed him from Texas Tech into the NFL. He had a 35-40 record with the Red Raiders. He hasn’t proven much in the NFL yet while finishing 5-10-1 and 8-8. But this 37-20 domination of the previously 3-0 Rams was a breakthrough moment — the first time in five games against the Rams that Kingsbury’s offense was better than even mediocre. Arizona became only the eighth team to score 37 or more points on offense against the Rams during McVay’s five-year, 74-game run as head coach, counting playoffs.
Kingsbury outcoached McVay in every facet. McVay refused to run the ball more against a lacking Cardinals rushing defense despite Darrell Henderson averaging more than six yards per carry.
Kliff used all of his weapons and had the Rams defense guessing. He was surgical in getting Murray to throw in the short area of the field. Murray also had zero turnover-worthy plays for the first time in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus, which has plenty to do with Kingsbury.
Tight end Maxx Williams was used in the red zone and in the screen game. Kingsbury’s running backs were implemented in the second half, which helped run out some clock. The Rams hadn’t allowed 30 points in a game for 16 straight games, and Kingsbury took them to the woodshed.
The Rams were also scared to go for it on fourth downs. Kingsbury outclassed McVay in strategy and never put the foot on the gas.
Don’t Forget the Defense
Vance Joseph deserves a ton of praise for preparing well against one of the best offenses in the NFL.
The Rams were kept out of the endzone in three quarters. While Stafford wasn’t sacked once, they did force two turnovers.
“They still had some big-time plays,” Kingsbury said. “But I thought we did just enough to create some turnovers and really turn the tide. Now, the hope is that the wave can carry throughout the rest of the season.”
The Cardinals’ defense was gritty in the second half. They would’ve had another interception from Staffard that was caught by Marco Wilson, but a questionable roughing the passer call on Isaiah Simmons negated the play. Arizona’s defense has now allowed a total of 23 second-half points in four games, which is less than a six points per game average.
Overall, the Cardinals are allowing 21.3 points per game, which is the ninth-best in the league. This is a defense that hasn’t even hit their stride and should expect better days out of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt.
After playing a top-tier offense, the Cardinals will head back to their home and take on an injury-riddled 49ers team that will start rookie QB Trey Lance for the first time.