Heading into his third game against the Rams, second-year Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is preparing for an energized Los Angeles defense led by defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
"I've been really impressed with the job he's done, and it starts with just how hard that group is playing," Kingsbury said. "I mean to me, that jumps out on tape. They're playing hard, they're playing with enthusiasm. They're flying around. The scheme is more of a zone-coverage scheme than they ran last year. It's an attacking defense. They're playing with a lot of confidence."
That effort has produced the NFL's No. 2 total defense (297.0 yards allowed per game), which will go up against the NFL's No. 2 total offense (403.7 yards per game) led by Kingsbury on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (1:05 p.m. PT, FOX).
For Kingsbury, what has made L.A.'s defense – which has also allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game (93.5) and is tied with Pittsburgh for the second-fewest passing yards allowed per game (203.5) entering Week 13 – particularly effective is the way they have deployed Jalen Ramsey and taken advantage of his versatility.
Staley this summer said he viewed Ramsey as a defensive back rather than just a cornerback because of his command for every position in the secondary. That vision has manifested itself in the form of Ramsey playing at "star" – the hybrid defensive back position in the Rams' scheme that combines the skillsets of a cornerback, linebacker and safety.
"It's definitely a challenge," Kingsbury said. "Like when I saw it, I thought it was a brilliant move by them allowing him to kind of showcase what he can do and the way he can close space and then being an eraser for them in that role. So offensively, when you see that, you try to do different things to attack it. That's a great role for him. I just thought it was a very smart move by them to allow him to not just be occupied by one guy, but kind of see the ball and chase it and then kind of seek and destroy."
While Ramsey plays all over the field, it wouldn't be a total shock to see him shadow Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a three-time First Team All-Pro who is currently 33 yards shy of logging his fourth-consecutive 1,000-yard season and sixth overall in eight NFL seasons.
"Yeah, I'm sure it'll be a great matchup," Kingsbury said. "Ramsey is a tremendous competitor, tremendous player, really like watching him play. I like the way they're using him. Not only just matching up at corner, but letting them play in space and chase the football. He's really shown what a complete defensive player he is. So, they'll have a heck of a battle on Sunday, I'm sure."
Kingsbury is also aware of how tough the Rams' defense has been in the second half – Los Angeles has allowed seven or fewer points after halftime in 8 of its 11 games this season.
"I think there's a stat where they're only allowing an average of five points a game in the second half, and that's a credit to Coach Staley and the job he does at halftime making adjustments," Kingsbury said. "They got it rolling in that phase and it'll be a heck of a challenge trying to make first downs against them."