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Since he was hired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams back on January 12, 2017, the Arizona Cardinals have never beaten Sean McVay.
Not Bruce Arians, Steve Wilks nor Kliff Kingsbury (to this point) have been able to get it done.
To make matters worse, the Cardinals haven’t just lost to McVay, rather they are often times humiliated. In all but one instance (Week 17, 2020), McVay’s Rams have netted 30+ points against the Redbirds with the average margin of victory coming in at an astounding 20 points.
That’s a completely absurd fact given the parity that is often seen around the NFL.
The last time the Cardinals actually managed a win against the Rams was way back on January 1, 2017. The Rams were led by interim coach John Fassel as Arians and company made LA look like a high school team that day en route to a 44-6 blow out victory.
Unfortunately no one around the Valley knew what was on the cusp for the once dormant Ram franchise.
Sean McVay, as the then youngest head coach in NFL history, walked into a league filled with dinosaur coaches and quickly made many of them extinct. An argument could be made that Kliff Kingsbury, faults and all, isn’t the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals without McVay’s influence.
Kingsbury was famously offered a gig on McVay’s staff following his dismissal at Texas Tech before being scooped up by Michael Bidwill.
The Cardinals, while quickly pivoting off Wilks, wanted to mirror the approach that had made the upstart Rams so successful.
And while his most recent attempts at upending his division rival and mentor have been respectable, Kingsbury’s Cardinals find themselves in a position in which it’s long past due to secure a win against the Rams.
The problem is this version of McVay’s Rams may very well be the best we’ve seen to date.
The addition of quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a godsend for McVay who was forced to limit his playbook with the presence of previous starter Jared Goff. While the team remains relatively light in terms of depth, they feature supremely gifted top end talent that is headlined by the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
For the Cardinals to finally upend this juggernaut, it’s going to take a near perfect game from everyone involved and that still might not be enough.
But as the previously winless New York Jets showed a year ago, it can be done.
So here’s how the Arizona Cardinals can finally defeat Sean McVay and the LA Rams.
Lean on the run game.
During McVay’s run of success, the Rams have consistently sported a top tier defense and this year is no different. The names at coordinator may change ala Wade Phillips, Brandon Staley and now Raheem Morris, but the elite production remains the same.
With a perceived culture of offensive greatness, it’s often the Ram’s defense that is overlooked by the public as their primary asset. The aforementioned Donald and Ramsey are unquestionably two of the top five defenders in all of football but the rest of the unit does appear to have some holes.
Their linebacking core, while effective, can sometimes find themselves lapsing when defending the run. The same thing can be said for their defensive ends, who are known to get lost in containment while failing to set the edge.
Look no further for proof than Week 1 against an abysmal Chicago Bear offense that seemingly did whatever it wanted on the ground against LA.
After two uninspiring rushing weeks to begin the season, the Cardinals and head coach Kliff Kingsbury wisely opted to reignite their ground attack last Sunday against Jacksonville. Newcomer James Conner, in particular, has been incredibly effective between the tackles and was rewarded against the Jaguars with two rushing touchdowns.
Giving both Conner and Chase Edmonds opportunities in space against the Rams would also help in alleviating the pressure that is undoubtedly coming for quarterback Kyler Murray.
Murray was famously knocked out of last year’s pivotal Week 17 matchup against the Rams in which a victory would have seen the Cardinals reach the postseason.
Allowing Murray to have a compliment in the form of an effective run game will do wonders for a Cardinal offense that can also strike at any moment over the top. Rookie Rondale Moore was uncharacteristically quiet against Jacksonville and could very well be an X factor as both a receiver and runner.
Kingsbury would be wise to utilize the Rookie of the Year contender in the backfield while also incorporating him on jet-sweeps and receiver screens. Moore’s elusiveness could give LA fits as the Cardinals have not sported a player with this ability in the open field since McVay was hired.
Paging Chandler Jones?
After a scorching hot Week 1 performance in which he netted an unprecedented five sacks against Tennessee, Chandler Jones has been relatively quiet in terms of disruptions the past two Sundays.
This is compounded further by the fact that, dating back to Week 1 of 2020, Jones is sackless in six of his last eight games.
Sacks, while important, do not tell the entire story for a player’s contribution but if the Cardinals hope to pull off the upset, they’ll need Jones to be active in the LA backfield.
Through three games this season, all of which were against quality defensive opponents, Matthew Stafford has been sacked only three times. By in large, he’s been allowed to stand cleanly in the pocket and deliver accurate strikes to a receiving core greatly benefiting from their new signal caller.
Like any quarterback, the best way to offset their rhythm is by knocking them on their ass a time or two.
Enter Jones, who has an opportunity to show out in a marquee contest in which a high level performance would do wonders in his attempt to secure the bag from Michael Bidwill.
Stafford, while not overly mobile, can move around a bit in the pocket but has been historically prone to taking sacks during his long tenure in Detroit.
He is also liable to put the pull on the ground when roughed up.
It’s may seem obvious but Jones cannot disappear in such a critical game for this Cardinal team. Franchise players, no matter the circumstances, typically rise to the occasion (see Larry Fitzgerald) and the Cardinals desperately need that from Jones on Sunday.
Since he was acquired by GM Steve Keim back in 2016, the Cardinals have not reached the postseason with Chandler Jones on the roster. Both parties would be best served putting those demons to bed in 2021 while making history together.
MVP Kyler Murray most show up for four quarters.
If you’re a betting person (and why wouldn’t you be?), you can currently score MVP odds for Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray at a competitive +750 right now via Draft Kings.
Perhaps the folks in Vegas are starting to recognize what has been apparent in the Valley for some time; that being Kyler Murray is a bonafide superstar.
Murray has the endorsements, the hardware and the gaudy statistics to support this narrative ten-fold.
What some might argue he does not have, however, is a signature win that fuels a post season birth for the Redbirds. While that is not likely to be decided come Sunday afternoon, an upset victory over McVay’s Rams would no doubt catapult Murray’s league status to new heights.
For Murray to accomplish this, he must put together his most complete effort to date. The Cardinals need all the effectiveness and flash that currently make him an MVP favorite without the erratic turnovers that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The Cardinals and Murray have been able to overcome a misfire or two thanks much in part to their superior talent compared to their first three opponents.
Against the Rams, that’s simply not an option.
Murray has to make the conscience decision to sometimes opt for the smart football play, ala a checkdown or underneath throw, rather than give into his urge to consistently swing for the fences downfield.
I am in noway endorsing Murray go full game manager, as the Cardinals absolutely need his electrifying play as an equalizer against LA. What I am suggesting is that it may only take a singular Arizona turnover for the Rams to once again put their foot on the gas and coast to their ninth straight victory over the Cardinals.
Fair or not, depending on what Vance Joseph defense opts to show up Sunday, Kyler Murray may be asked to go blow for blow with Stafford.
If that’s the case, efficiency is everything and Murray is certainly capable of throwing on his Superman cape and putting on a performance legendary enough to finally take down McVay.
These are the kind of games the Cardinals’ brass envisioned winning when they selected Murray first overall back in 2019.
It’s time to see just how far this franchise has come since then.