THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. –When it comes to carrying confidence into the offseason for the Rams run defense, there is perhaps no better opportunity than this Sunday when it hosts the Cardinals and one of the league's most improved ground attacks in recent weeks.
"They do have a really good running game," Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "Their average per carry is right up there in the top of the league."
When the two teams played earlier this month, quarterback Kyler Murray was Arizona's leading rusher. That title has since been taken by running back and midseason acquisition Kenyan Drake behind a pair of monster performances over the last two weeks.
Across Weeks 15 and 16, Drake has 46 carries for 303 yards and six touchdowns. His 24 carries for 166 yards against the Seahawks last week boosted the Cardinals played a pivotal role in boosting the team to 5.06 yards per carry on the season, on pace for the most efficient rushing season in franchise history according to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com.
"You've seen what he's done at Alabama, you've seen what he's done at Miami," said Rams running back Todd Gurley, when asked about his backfield counterpart. "He's been turning it up and he's been killing it the last couple of weeks."
Unsurprisingly, Drake's elevated play has correlated with significant improvement in Arizona's overall run game.
Led by Drake, Arizona is averaging 10.3 more rushing yards per game compared to how it fared entering the first meeting with Los Angeles this season. Going from 117.7 total rushing yards per game to 127.9 also moved them from 15th to ninth in the NFL in that category.
Drake's 80-yard touchdown run and 166 yards caught the attention of Phillips. It was a stark contrast to his 13 carries for 31 yards when the Rams and the Cardinals played in Week 13, a 34-7 Los Angeles win, but L.A.'s defense didn't dismiss that performance and still viewed him as a talented running back.
"We were impressed with him the last game we played," Phillips said. "They got behind, so I'm sure they didn't get to run the ball as much as they would have liked."
Slowing both Drake and the Cardinals' run game down would help the Rams finish 2019 on a good note, as players and coaches have emphasized this week.
"It's going to be a challenge for us to stop him and their running game," Phillips said.