Shortly before yesterday afternoon’s 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Rams 101 outlined six keys to a St. Louis Rams win:
#Rams101 keys to a win against AZ: 1) Must generate pressure on Palmer 2) Keep Bradford upright 3) Get Tavon at least 10 touches on offense
— Rams 101 (@Rams_101) September 8, 2013
(cont.) 4) Limit Fitzgerald's impact by bracket coverage 5) Get Daryl Richardson in space 6) Limit Peterson's returns
— Rams 101 (@Rams_101) September 8, 2013
Here's how the Rams responded to the keys we laid out and how they contributed to the Rams victory over the Cardinals:
Key #1: Generate consistent pressure on Carson Palmer While the Rams managed to sack QB Carson Palmer four times (including a breakout game by DE Robert Quinn with three sacks, two of which caused fumbles), Palmer otherwise had enough pocket cleanliness to spread the ball around to the tune of 26/40 for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also, Palmer and Co. were able to convert 50% of third downs (7/14). For a Rams defense that hopes to be in the top 10 by year’s end, they must find a way to keep the QB more uncomfortable. The Rams predominately rushed only four most of the night, and many of Palmers’ passes were out quickly to various spread formations (including plenty of bunch sets with short option routes). Credit the Cardinals’ coaching staff for an effective game plan here, such that the Rams’ defense had difficulty getting consistent pressure. But also note that the Rams' soft coverage scheme in the first half greatly enhanced the Cardinals' ability to execute this plan.
Key #2: Keep Sam Bradford upright and clean The Rams answered this key with flying colors, as Bradford was pressured/hit minimally by the blitzes and stunts the Cardinals dialed up. More importantly, Bradford was not sacked and generally had time to work through multiple progressions to find a positive play. In fact, Bradford has not been sacked in the past three regular season games dating back to Week 14 of 2012. A major credit goes to the offensive line and its coach Paul Boudreau here, especially as OT’s Rodger Saffold and Jake Long appeared to be shaken up during the game only to gut it out until the finish line. This unit certainly feeds off each other’s toughness, grit and attitude, and this can only make Bradford more confident to stand tall in the pocket and deliver an accurate ball.
Key #3: Get Tavon Austin 10 touches on offense The Rams have not exactly been shy about their plans for getting the ball into Austin’s hands. Whether it be in the return game, at wide receiver or even running back, his consistent involvement in this offense is a key to more explosive plays. Ideally, Austin would be able to get around 10 touches each game, with the hope that at least one or two of those touches is an explosive play (a play gaining at least 20 yards). Yesterday afternoon, the Rams tried to approach that number by targeting Austin seven times (earning 6 catches for 41 yards) and handing the ball off once (no gain). His longest gain of 14 yards was certainly not an explosive play, but if he continues to get those touches and targets, it is only a matter of time before he breaks one for a long gain.
Key #4: Limit Larry Fitzgerald’s impact with double coverage Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald deserves a tip of the cap, as he has lived through some truly horrendous quarterback play over the last few years. With Carson Palmer, he finally has someone who can deliver the ball to him downfield and who takes advantage of Fitzgerald’s intelligence and route savvy. This was on display Sunday, as the Rams had difficulty limiting Fitzgerald’s impact (especially in the red zone). While the Rams set out to keep Fitzgerald under double coverage, the Cardinals were very smart to keep their pass catchers spread/bunched in such a way as to isolate Fitzgerald into one on one situations. They also kept him in motion to keep the defense from keying on him, and he responded with 8 catches for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns (on 14 targets). Both touchdowns occurred in isolation, and on excellent fade throws from Palmer directly into the end zone. As the Rams go forward, Tim Walton is going to have to scheme better to avoid having his young secondary in such unfavorable matchups. That begins this week against the Falcons' arsenal of receiving weapons.
Key #5: Get Daryl Richardson in space as much as possible During training camp and the preseason, it appeared that RB Daryl Richardson was coming into his own as a pass catcher and therefore more of a three-down back. He hit holes hard with burst and leg drive, protected the ball, showed more awareness out of the backfield and soft hands. Jeff Fisher named Richardson the starting running back as a result, and it was expected he would be more featured in the offense. As Richardson is more of a “juice” or space player (although he has shown that he can run between the tackles), it was hoped that Bradford and OC Brian Schottenheimer would look to get Richardson the ball out in space or in zone looks. On Sunday, Richardson was targeted six times, catching five for 33 yards with a long of 15. It is valuable for Bradford to have a reliable check down option, and Richardson showed he can be that guy.
Key #6: Do not let Patrick Peterson touch the ball The Rams special teams unit did a great job here, so much so that I counted only one time that Peterson had an opportunity to return a punt (for one yard). Punter Johnny Hekker was fantastic with his hang time and directional punts, averaging 49 yards on 3 punts (including one that should have been downed around the 2 yard line but went for a touchback). Also, Bradford pretty much avoided throwing at Peterson (who typically shadowed WR Chris Givens), limiting his opportunities to make an impact during the game. Peterson is indeed one of the more talented corners in the NFC, and the Rams certainly did not want him around the ball.
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