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Cardinals Teaching Cleanups vs. Rams

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you want to examine what went wrong and what went right when the Cardinals lost to the Rams at home 38-28 back in Week 13, take a close look at the plays on this highlight tape.

The game was actually a lot closer and more competitive than the score may indicate —- and that’s despite a number of colossal mistakes the Cardinals made on both sides of the ball. This article will focus on the cleanups the Cardinals need to make and some suggestions as to which mops and detergents to use.

Cleanups on Offense:

1—-Kyler’s mistakes when getting flushed backward to his left from the pocket, which included his costly fumble on a strip sack.

Answer: The Rams are most vulnerable trying to defend the intermediate areas behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Their speed on the pass rush makes it difficult for Kyler to spin away from pressure—- thus, the Cardinals would be wise to try to maximize their pass protection by double teaming Aaron Donald and keeping a blocker in to take out the first threat. Ideally, that extra blocker in the backfield can slip off his block to become a quick hit safety valve. On many plays Kyler was given ample time—-but, when not, his most immediate escape routes are through the middle, not from the sides. Ball security is key. If the Cardinals wish to do so, they can have a clear safety valve on every passing play. Preferably someone like Chase Edmonds or Larry Fitzgerald who can catch the ball and make a defender miss or break a tackle.

2—-Rams’ speed in the 20 yard rectangle makes it difficult for the Cardinals to try to use 4 downs to gain 10 yards.

Answer: The Rams had some issues covering Dan Arnold downfield in this game (see the first and last plays of the video for DA’s 2 TDs)—-and the Seahawks had similar success yesterday throwing a TD to TE Jacob Hollister. Arnold needs a nice bounce back game. It would be great if DeAndre Hopkins could work with him on how to come down with the football in coverage. Perhaps Maxx Williams (if active) and Seth DeValve can make a big catch or two. But, the point is, the Cardinals would be wise to try to take 2 downs to get 10 yards by attacking the intermediate and deep areas of the field more regularly and not settling for token dives and WR screens versus their speed in the front 7. See the nice 4th down conversion Kyler threw on a buttonhook to KeeSean Johnson, for example.

3—-Rams’ tend to cluster in coverage at times, as they did on Andy isabella on Kyler’s forced pass into triple coverage that CB Troy Hill had on his pick six.

Answer: Check away from cluster coverage whenever possible. What may be an ingenious thing to do in this game is to take page out of the Rams’ book and run Kyler on a number of bootlegs and waggles. The Cardinals haven’t done much of that this season, but think of the kind of pressure this could put on the Rams’ defense with their linebackers trying to prevent Kyler from running and their secondary trying to defend down field. Plus—-the Cardinals would be wise to activate Andy Isabella to use his speed to their advantage. The back end of the Rams’ secondary is not very fast.Russell Wilson was able to buy time to his right and throw a deep completion to David Moore up the right sideline. Cardinals need to take and complete some of those deep shots.

Cleanups on Defense:

1—-Keeping contain. As you saw on play 2 of this highlight tape, look at how Haason Reddick bites inside on the Rams’ bread and butter play action bootleg where they send the TE on a corner route intermediate/deep and slip WR Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp behind the line of scrimmage across to the flat of the bootleg side. Did you notice that no Cardinal defender chased Woods? Did you notice that the closet man to Woods was Jordan Hicks?

Answer: In a 34 you either chase Woods in man to man with one of the CBs 9which is difficult because of having to run through traffic) or you pick Woods up with the backside ILB. That would mean using a CB or safety to cover TEs Higbee and Everett. it would be a great time this week to make the adjustment of asking your defensive interior players to create penetration so as to disrupt the timing of these bread and butter plays. The defensive interior in VJ’s defense is usually asked to occupy blockers at the line of scrimmage, but that plays into the Rams’ hand on their wrinkle plays. The Seahawks defensive interior did a good job of getting some timely, disruptive penetration. Cardinals need to do the same.

2—-Defending the Rams’ bread and butter running plays, especially their power off-tackle play. In this game, the Rams scored a rushing TD in the red zone (Cam Akers from 9 yards out and then a long 38 yard off-tackle, cutback TD to Darrell Henderson Jr. when the score was 24-21 Rams.(8 minute mark on video). What the Rams do very well on these off-tackle plays is seal off the backside (in this case with their trips—-TE and 2 WRs) and then if the inside linebackers over commit to the flow, they wall them off to create a clear cutback lane. If the FS doesn’t sniff this out, as Budda Baker was unable to do, it’s a TD waiting to happen. The Rams are going to lick their chops watching the success that Jeff Wilson Jr, had this past week versus the Cardinals’ front seven that basically got blown off the ball and where the inside linebackers got exposed for lack of aggressiveness or nose for the ball instincts.

Answer: The wrinkles I would love to see the Cardinals make this week are: (1) this time storm the gaps inside to gain penetration—-stop playing flat-footed up front; (2) because the Cardinals’ ILBers are not aggressively plugging holes and the DC refuses to play Tanner Vallejo who made the best two plug tackles on the season, then I believe there is no other choice than to make the ILBers aggressive in this game by blitzing them on a regular basis. The Rams will see this and then counter with a Goff play action waggle to throw to Everett, Woods or Kupp over the middle where the LBers vacate—-but—-you have to demand tight coverage this week from the CBs and safeties—-and the blitzing ILBers may get to Goff in a hurry.

3—-Notice how many times that Rams’ receivers, particularly their RBs were WIDE open in this game. Take a look at play 3 on this highlight tape—-the Cardinals are playing in a soft zone where the linebackers are like 8-10 yards back—-and yet there is NO Cardinal playing the flat where both Robert Woods (who went in motion) and Gerald Everett are all ALONE and wide open. Later in the game—-every time the Rams sent one of their RBs into the flat (you probably noticed this if you watched the tape) the RBs were WIDE open. These soft marshmallow perimeters the Cardinals give up week after week are compounded even more by letting a QB like Jared Goff break contain so easily and by letting RBs roam free on simple swing or out passes with no one near them.

Answer: This sh&^ has to stop. This Cardinals defense cannot play zone and therefore should not play zone. The Seahawks played combo man zones where they had safeties and linebackers waiting to help on the Rams’ crossers, Woods, Reynolds and Kupp, in particular. That is a great plan. For the Cardinals this week, they HAVE to match up man to man and chase with sticky coverage like they did in New York, and they have to be aggressive in making swarm gang tackles all over the field, especially on the perimeter where the Rams’ offense loves to flourish. But, the Cardinals, if they keep Goff contained to the pocket as Daniel Jones was—-this game could be a lot like the Giants game at MetLife as the Giants have similar type receivers (size and speed) and TEs (size and speed) whom the secondary was able to chase and pester all day while the pass rush was getting to the QB.

Cleanups on Special Teams:

1—-Zane Gonzalez missing a 48 yard FG at the end of the 1st half.

Answer: Mike Nugent has been more accurate, although he hasn’t kicked any from this distance yet. His 55 yarder was right on line, but a foot or two short, but, did not count because of a penalty.

What did you notice from the video?

The video was extremely frustrating (even infuriating) to watch at times (especially seeing how woefully prepared the defense was for a division rival that other defenses had answers and even blueprints on tape for the Cardinals to emulate—-and to see how skittish Kyler was at times, while very composed at others). But the tape was also encouraging in the sense that if the Cardinals do clean up the glaring mistakes they made in this game, then they could very well have a fighting chance this time.