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Rams and Cardinals Meet for Division Game Across the Pond

Posted Oct 20, 2017

The Rams will face off against the Cardinals in an NFC West matchup at Twickenham Stadium in London for Week 7.

The Rams’ 11-day road trip started off on a high note in Week 6 when they defeated the Jaguars 27-17. By doing so, the team is off to its first 4-2 start since 2006. But after a brief stay in Florida, the Rams are on the road once again, travelling more than 5,000 miles to London, England.

Across the pond, Los Angeles will face a familiar foe — the Arizona Cardinals — in a NFC West matchup that will have significant implications on the division standings. A loss to Arizona this weekend would see the Cardinals pulling into a tie with the Rams atop of the NFC West. 

“We’ve got a great group of men in that locker room,” head coach Sean McVay said. “They understand that there is an approach we want to take where it’s very serious and businesslike, but you can still have fun and enjoy doing that. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us in the Cardinals, coming off of a big win and we’re looking forward to competing on Sunday.”

And that approach has worked well thus far. The Rams are 3-0 on the road this season for the first time since 2001 and are looking to continue that streak on Sunday.

“I don’t even think we should play at home,” running back Todd Gurley joked after the team’s win over Jacksonville. “We’ve gotten all the wins on the road. That’s been a good thing for us.”

“When we go on the road all we have is ourselves, so we have really been together when we’re on the road,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman added. “We are coming together as a team, that’s the difference.”

The Rams and Cardinals have met 76 times overall, dating all the way back to 1937 when the Chicago Cardinals first met the Cleveland Rams. Though Arizona holds a slight edge over the all-time record with 38 wins and most recently took home a victory over Los Angeles to end 2016, the Rams are ready to get some revenge come Sunday.  

“We need to get them back,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “It’s a divisional game. They know us, we know them. We’re coming to play, they’re coming to play. The best team that executes wins this game.”

But like any divisional contest, winning won’t be easy.

The Cardinals made headlines earlier this month by trading for running back Adrian Peterson. Though the 32 year-old rushed for just 81 yards on 27 carries and no touchdowns in four games with the Saints, he has since provided a breath of fresh air for Arizona.

In his first game last weekend, Peterson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

“He just adds a different dynamic to their offensive scheme,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said.  “They pretty much do the same stuff, but having him, he’s basically saying, ‘My athlete is better than yours.’ So you have to win your one-on-one matchups and be able to tackle.”

“When you have the name ‘All Day’ as your nickname, it’s kind of hard to back that up,” Brockers said. “But he can give it to you all day.”

Plus with Peterson rolling, it means less passing for quarterback Carson Palmer and more open receivers, including Arizona’s star wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Against the Buccaneers, Palmer completed 18 of 22 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns — one of which was to Fitzgerald.

“They are veteran guys and they constantly do what they need to do to put themselves in a position to win their matchups,” Ogletree said. “So they definitely pose a challenge.”

However, the Rams defense under coordinator Wade Phillips has looked much improved in its last three games. Last week, the unit was effective in containing standout running back Leonard Fournette after an initial burst and was efficient in its passing defense as well.

When Fitzgerald lines up in the slot, expect a matchup between him and cornerback Nickell-Robey Coleman. The veteran wideout — who is undoubtedly the Cardinals’ most reliable target— will present Robey-Coleman with one of his toughest challenges yet.

Another player to watch will be defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald has looked more and more himself over the last few games, notching one sack and two quarterback hits in last week’s contest. But Donald said he’s not satisfied yet.

“Still want to make more plays, but it’s going to come,” Donald said Wednesday. “You have to keep playing hard and continue to study, continue to get myself better working on my technique and it’ll come.”

On offense, the Rams will look to improve on their performance from Week 6, where they struggled a bit both in the red zone and on third downs.

“I think just execution of each play,” quarterback Jared Goff said of what he hopes to clean up. “I think we had some good plays and just didn't quite execute them on everyone's part. I can throw a couple balls better and we could do a little bit better at running routes. [But] I think we'll look to bounce back this weekend in that regard.”

The offensive line in particular is one important area to watch on Sunday. Last season, Goff was sacked seven times and hit a total of nine times in Week 17 against Arizona.

Fortunately for Goff, the Rams’ effort to boost their O-Line has paid off in dividends this year. But the front five will still face a premier challenge from outside linebacker Chandler Jones who is averaging one sack per game this season.

“[They’re] definitely very good and very experienced,” Goff said of the Arizona defense. “They have been with each other for a while and have been good for a long time, so it will be a good challenge for us.”

For the Rams to be successful on Sunday they will also need to get the ground game going early. Running back Todd Gurley has three games with at least 100 yards rushing this season and currently ranks No. 4 in the league with 521 yards overall.

However, Arizona allowed just 68 yards rushing last week against Tampa Bay and will be looking to stall the Rams run game in much of the same way.

“The plan is to tackle him if I get a chance,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said, via azcardinals.com. “It has to be a group effort. He’s playing really well right now, he’s confident, and he’s not the running back he was last year either.”

Finally, Los Angeles’ special teams unit is coming off of a huge performance in Week 6, where it recorded both a kickoff and blocked punt returned for a touchdown. While the entire unit has played well throughout the season, the Rams have specifically become of the NFL’s most aggressive teams when it comes to returning kicks. 

This year, Pharoh Cooper’s 476 kickoff return yards more than doubles the Cardinals’ 222. And against Arizona, Los Angeles will look to add an additional spark from the unit that McVay said made all “the difference in the game” last weekend.

Kickoff for Sunday’s contest in London will be at 10 a.m Pacific Time. For more information on how to watch, click here.