NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW 2021-22 WILD CARD: #4 Rams VS #5 Cardinals
The 2021 playoffs are set, now it’s time for the NFL Playoff Preview for the Wildcard round. For the third time this season, the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals will meet on the field, but for much higher stakes. Both teams split the season series, with the Rams taking the NFC West crown and will have home-field advantage for the Wild Card matchup. Will Matthew Stafford prove the doubters wrong, or will Kyler Murray announce his arrival as one of the best quarterbacks in the league? Let us unpack this Wild Card matchup.
How the Rams Can Win
1. Limit Turnovers
Matthew Stafford leads the league in pick 6s thrown with four total. Not exactly a recipe for success. It’s bad enough throwing interceptions (Stafford has thrown 17 this season) but the defense scoring on said interception just adds insult to injury. Stafford has thrown an interception in each of his previous four games, with his last three being multi-interception games. If Stafford limits his interceptions, preferably throw none, then that gives the Rams the best chance to win.
2. Run The Ball
With Stafford’s struggles, what has kept the Rams competitive has been their run game. Cam Akers is back from his injury, and with such high stakes, his workload might increase. The bulk of the carries will most likely go to Sony Michel, who has had a bit of a rejuvenation to his career with the Rams. Since taking over as the primary RB on December 5, Michel is averaging over 4 yards per carry and has found the endzone three times during those six games. The Cardinals are giving up 114 yards per game on the ground. Pounding the ball on the ground could open things up for Stafford and make him feel a bit more comfortable.
3. Contain Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray is dangerous. He’s one of those Qbs that has next. He isn’t on the same tier as Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but he is one of the future stars of the NFL. He has a cannon for an arm, can extend plays outside of the pocket, can make plays with his legs, and can be pretty difficult to tackle. The Rams have to contain Murray within the pocket and make him beat the defense through the air. It’s not a perfect strategy, but limiting the impact of star players can tip the balance in your favor. Steph Curry might score 30 points, but making him shoot 3-10 from 3pt range means he wasn’t as affecting as his averages say he is. Just one play of containing Murray could mean the difference.
How The Cardinals Can Win
1. Force Stafford Into Mistakes
As previously stated, Stafford has been throwing a lot of interceptions recently. Whatever other teams have been doing to force him into mistakes, the Cardinals have to do the same thing. Pass rushers need to put the pressure on Stafford. Get stops on first and second down and make him think he has to make a big play and force the ball to Kupp or Odell. Odds are the interception could be a pick 6. Get Stafford down and desperate early and let the Detroit Stafford show.
2. Keep The Ball Away From Cooper Kupp
Cooper Kupp has had a historic season. It is no secret Stafford loves throwing him the ball. Again with the Steph analogy, you won’t be able to completely stop Kupp, but you can limit him. Pump him early on routes and double team, maybe triple if you have to. Make Stafford have to rely on Van Jefferson to win this game. Knowing Stafford, he will try and force the ball to Kupp. If Arizona’s DBs are doing their job, they will be in positions to make plays.
3. Give Kyler Murray Time To Throw
News just came out that Rams safety Jordan Fuller is out for the playoffs and Eric Weddle coming out of retirement to replace him. Weddle was once a good player, but he’s old now. The Cardinals O-Line needs to be able to protect Murray long enough for his receivers to beat the secondary over the top and potentially expose Weddle in his return to the NFL. The Cardinals can win if Murray makes plays with his legs, but it’s more beneficial to Murray and his health if he has clean pockets to throw from. Protect Murray, give him time to throw deep, and you win.
The previous two meetings between these two teams have been really entertaining. I will be honest, I had the Rams going to the Super Bowl. But their recent play has me uncertain. I am a man who likes to be right, but I pride myself in my honesty. If that means admitting that I’m wrong and not sticking to bad takes, then it is what it is. I think this is a slugfest and an entertaining one at that. This is one of the more difficult games to cover in our NFL Playoff Preview series, but it will certainly be one of the more entertaining games this weekend.
Prediction: 31-24 Cardinals
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