It was a divisional matchup week for the NFC West, which means this will be a much quicker recap than usual. Obviously, the 49ers squared off against the Seahawks, and enough hay has been made of that game to feed a million horses.
Meanwhile, a pair of undefeated teams took the field down south in Los Angeles, and the results took many by surprise and confirmed what others have been saying already. This proves that the absolutely loaded division won’t be settled without a few twists and turns along the way.
CARDINALS 37, RAMS 20 - Arizona 4-0, Los Angeles 3-1
That’s right, after beating the defending Super Bowl champs and looking nearly unstoppable in the process, the Rams got turned into chumps trying to defend Kyler Murray and this high-flying Cardinals’ offense. While the league has come to expect magic from the freaky athlete, I don’t think anyone anticipated an out-of-sorts Stafford having issues keeping pace with McVay’s play-calling prowess.
Yet, here we are, and there it goes. By it, I mean another errant pass that was almost undoubtedly headed in Cooper Kupp’s direction. Stafford took aim at his favorite target a lopsided thirteen times, resulting in only five catches for 64 yards. The connection powered the offense through Week 3 but ran out of steam as the Arizona defense keyed in on it, and Stafford’s accuracy prevented other big plays.
He managed to over and under throw passes and tallied an interception after missing DeSean Jackson deep on a ball that needed a little more mustard. It is a bit of mystery why the Rams didn’t utilize their run game more in the early going, especially with Daryl Henderson averaging over six yards per rush.
Los Angeles has had difficulty replacing Cam Akers, who went down with a torn Achilles before the season, even trading for Sony Michel as a possible stand-in. Henderson ran productively after returning from his own injury, but that might have more to do with the porousness of the Cardinals’ run D.
They rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per game but hold up much better defending their airspace. Byron Murphy has ascended, filling the void left by Patrick Peterson, and has recorded three interceptions in the last two weeks. A player like that alongside Buddha Baker has proven invaluable to keeping quarterbacks in check.
As for the Rams, they were ruthlessly torched by the league’s MVP frontrunner for 268 passing yards and two touchdowns. Then, for good measure, he scampered for 39 yards on the ground, including a devastating scramble for a first down on 3rd and 16.
Murray, perhaps, exposed the Rams’ biggest weakness on that side of the ball: Linebacker. There’s a startling lack of athleticism at the position, which is only bolded, underlined, and circled by facing such a dynamic player.
There’s much left to be desired between Aaron Donald on the line, and Jalen Ramsey in the secondary, and Raheem Morris has not held a candle to Brandon Staley. Regression comes for every top defense, but this one more aggressively than most.
It doesn’t help to go against a Cardinals’ offense with a fully-stocked toy chest for Murray to do with as he pleases. A rejuvenated A.J. Green caught a 41 yard TD pass, while tight end Maxx Williams caught the other, plus DeAndre Hopkins, oh yeah, him, hauled in four passes on seven targets for 67 yards.
To complete things, they’ve built a nice lighting and thunder backfield combo with Chase Edmunds and James Connor, the former putting up 120 yards and the latter two touchdowns. Add in a couple of designed runs for Rondale Moore and Murray’s inherent elusiveness, and you’ve got a dangerous ground game.
Not every one of their matchups has gone so overwhelmingly in their favor so far, as consistently keeping up this output has proven to be its own challenge, but they are the last undefeated left standing in the young NFL season.
The good news? The Niners get a chance to put a blemish on that record this Sunday.