Los Angeles is currently undefeated against opponents that didn't make the Final Four last season.
No franchise has given the 49ers a harder time this season than the Rams.
Those are very valid reasons – particularly combined with the productive return of Cooper Kupp last week – to be bullish about L.A.'s chances of getting hot and rattling off some wins.
The fact that their next two opponents, Arizona and Pittsburgh, have a combined mark of 4-6 doesn't hurt either.
Perhaps you're having thoughts like I am: Win these next two and you're in great shape. Get three out of four before the bye and you're teed up for a great second half.
Zoom out a bit and ask yourself, are there seven or eight more wins out there for this group? With good health, I'm convinced there are at least that many.
The trick is staying the course – and setting that course with a win over the Cardinals.
The Cards You're Dealt
Because this is the first week of 2023 where it feels like the Rams "should" win, there's built-in concern about complacency.
This is no time to exhale, though.
The Cardinals profile may not look great on paper, and they're pretty banged up at some key spots (safety Budda Baker and running back James Connor, specifically). But the Cardinals have been an above-average offense. And excepting his performance last week versus Cincinnati, Joshua Dobbs has played well at quarterback.
Do The Dam Thing
I also have a bad taste left over from 2022, because the Cardinals winning at SoFi in Week 10 is where the dam broke for me. Matthew Stafford was out, Cooper Kupp played his final snap of the season in that game, and the Rams fell to 3-6.
Arizona hasn't won consecutive games against the Rams since well before Sean McVay was hired (2014, to be precise). And allowing the Cardinals to win three straight seasons at Hollywood Park feels unfathomable.
Just a heads up, they're trying to make their presence felt this weekend.
It's Not Where You Start?
More home field advantage would be nice; improved starting field position would be even better.
The Rams average starting field position is their own 25.5, and only two teams have had longer fields. That's a product of only having three takeaways on defense, not getting three-and-outs, and having virtually no return game on kick or punt thus far.
Thankfully, the Cardinals are worse – in fact, the worst in the NFL – as their possessions have started from the 24.8 yard line, on average.
Do It For the Dodgers
After the way that NLDS went, Los Angeles needs some get back against Arizona on the gridiron.
Here's a scheduling quirk: For three straight weeks, the Rams are pitted against Philadelphia's NFC championship system.
First, former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and his Indianapolis Colts. Then the actual Eagles, still under the guidance of Nick Sirianni. And next up, former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and his Arizona Cardinals.
At least there's no Brotherly Shove to worry about this week, right?
Nine Out of Ten
Don't mistake the Week 5 loss for any decline in Matthew Stafford's standing among NFL quarterbacks this season. On the contrary, he compares even more favorably today than he did last week.
Stafford ranks first in Pro Football Focus' "Big Time Throws" metric and BTT percentage.
His "Turnover-Worthy Plays" rate is third-lowest.
PFF grades him seventh at his position, while he's also Top 10 in EPA and EPA per play.
His counting stats would surely look more robust if not for the third-most drops in the league. And as we saw with Kupp back in the lineup last week, Stafford is in attack mode, with an average depth of target checking in at fifth in the NFL.
These underlying measures bode very well over the long haul. Just hang in there; the points and wins are bound to follow.
This Pressure Is No Privilege
There is some concerning data from NextGen Stats, however.
Stafford has been pressured on 42 percent of drop-backs (the 6th-highest rate in the league) and his completion percentage falls nearly 20 points when he's under duress.
All the pieces seem to be there for the Rams to be formidable in pass protection. But they've yet to achieve great outcomes.
Mercifully, after a gauntlet of pass rushes that included San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, the Cardinals are not nearly in that class. They only have a 29 percent pressure percentage this season (second-lowest in NFL, again per NGS).
And here's the thing that hasn't been credited to Stafford and his offensive line enough – they've played five straight weeks of silent count to open the season.
We don't love that reality, but the Rams offense has weathered it with aplomb. In fact, I only count two pre-snap penalties against the offense all season, and one was by a backup lineman.
This should be a week where Stafford finally gets to manipulate the line of scrimmage with his cadence throughout a game. I predict that has a meaningful impact on the Rams protection and production.
Big Dot in a Big Spot
For the last two weeks, right guard Kevin Dotson has been the relay man on that silent count.
Had a great first conversation with him on Rams Revealed that I think you'll enjoy.
The Rams acquired Dotson from Pittsburgh right after the preseason, and that move has already paid huge dividends. (Of course, we note that the Steelers are in town next Sunday.)
The Lovin' Spoonful
Speaking of underrated moves, how about the sneaky spectacular signing of corner Ahkello Witherspoon?
He's got takeaways in three straight games, and PFF thinks highly of his work thus far.
Senior writer Stu Jackson just penned this profile of Witherspoon and how he's exactly what the young secondary has needed.
One of my favorite nuggets of the week comes from NFL Research:
Puka Nacua has racked up at least 70 yards receiving in each of his first five games, the longest streak to start a career since at least 1970 (the data mining is ongoing, apparently).
I thought Rams fans would get a kick out of the fact the longest streak overall by a rookie was nine games by Odell Beckham, Jr. to close out his debut season of 2014. Given our fondness for OBJ's contributions to the Rams championship season, here's to Nacua being the receiver to smash that threshold.
For the Birds
As mentioned above, Kupp suffered his season-ending ankle injury at home against the Cardinals last season with a single negative yard in his box score (suffice it to say, a career-low for the All-Pro).
Adding insult to injury, he's been held to under 65 receiving yards in three of his last four matchups against Arizona. That's significant because as we've documented in the past, those are Kupp's only outings with fewer than 75 yards since the outset of his Triple Crown campaign of 2021.
Said another way, the Arizona Cardinals are the only opponent to keep Kupp in check since Stafford showed up.
No Half Measures
That doesn't compute, and neither do the Rams second half struggles.
They were truly electric closing out Seattle and have been dormant in second halves ever since.
In the last four weeks, the Rams offensive EPA ranks 31st in the league and they've averaged less than five points per game in quarters three and four. The desperation Tutu Atwell connection in the final minute of Monday Night Football at Cincinnati is the only second-half touchdown L.A.'s been able to muster in that span.
I know we're all looking forward to ending that drought early in the three o'clock hour on Sunday afternoon.
Livin' On the Edge
Much as he's spoiled us over the years, it can't be all Aaron Donald when it comes to impacting opposing passers. The Eagles had a great plan for minimizing his impact, limiting him to just one pressure and four tackles.
Now, no team makes Donald see red like the Cardinals – he has 16 career sacks against them, including his 100th overall versus Kyler Murray last fall in Glendale.
This week's quarterback, Dobbs, isn't as elusive as Murray – or Jalen Hurts or Anthony Richardson, for that matter. He is Arizona's leading active rusher this season, however, now that James Conner unfortunately landed on injured reserve.
Tackling was an issue again last week, especially when it came to converting opportunities against Hurts. Someone, and preferably multiple someones, has to grow into those edge roles.
A few very realistic things I'm waiting on here in 2023, which could hopefully happen as soon as Sunday:
A non-offensive score.
A strip-sack (and recovery) for the Rams pass rush.
Cobie Durant, last year's NFL leader in interception return yardage, collecting his first pick.
And finally, we started something in this space last week that I think is worth maintaining, so long as the Rams are "in the hunt" (hopefully, that's all the way through Week 18) which is monitoring some other games that have serious implications on L.A.'s chances of making the postseason.
Last week, the Raiders beat the Packers, the Chiefs took out the Vikings, and the previously-winless Bears handed the Commanders a third loss. All those outcomes were favorable to the Rams.
This week, the top two teams in the NFC (and the last two undefeateds) are both on the road in AFC territory. Whether or not you believe the 49ers or Eagles are "catchable" in the standings, have at it Browns and Jets!
The three-seed in the NFC as of today is Detroit (4-1), and the Lions trip to Tampa (currently the four-seed at 3-1) is an intriguing could-be-good-for-the-Rams-either-way contest. The way I see it, let the Lions run away with their division. Ideally, the North and the South would only produce one playoff team.
Now, we get into the thick of the Wild Card framework, with Seattle (3-1) coming off a bye in Cincinnati. Did things just click into place for the Bengals with Burrow and Chase flooding the desert? Perhaps the Jungle will be as harsh to the Seahawks as it was to the Rams.
Atlanta (3-2) kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Houston last week – that was an opportunity lost from L.A.'s vantage point. Now, after acquiring Van Jefferson from the Rams, the Falcons face the Commanders (3-2) coming off that humiliating Thursday Night Football defeat. So an NFC bubble team is getting a win there while the other takes a loss.
The Cowboys (3-2) will be at SoFi Stadium on Monday night to challenge the Chargers. No matter your personal feelings about this one, always pull for the AFC over the NFC.
And with New Orleans (3-2) traveling to Houston, there are two major reasons to root for the Texans. First, each Saints loss helps the Rams odds. And second, each Texans win diminishes the first round pick they owe Arizona next spring (for the right to draft edge rusher Will Anderson, Jr.).
Hope to see you Sunday in Inglewood.
Take a look through the best photos of the Los Angeles Rams practicing ahead of their Week 6 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.