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Cardinals Look to Improve Run Defense vs. Rams

Through three weeks of play in the NFL, Arizona has struggled to stop opposing rushing attacks.

For an Arizona Cardinals team that is known to often times score at will, the defensive side of the ball was circled as an area that needed improvement following the 2020 season. 

In response, the Cardinals signed defensive end J.J. Watt and spent five of their seven picks in the most recent draft on the defense, with linebacker Zaven Collins and cornerback Marco Wilson headlining the draft class. 

With key pieces such as outside linebacker Chandler Jones and safety Budda Baker among others already in place, Arizona's defense was viewed to be a strong point heading into the season. 

Through three games played, the Cardinals are 3-0 with their defense contributing just as much as the offense in some instances. Arizona has seven takeaways since the start of the season, tied for second-most in the league with New Orleans. 

Arizona's defense hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part, they've showed up when needed and have created plenty of opportunities for the offense to find continued success thanks to turnovers and field position. 

Only allowing 202 passing yards per game, the Cardinals pass defense finds itself as a top-10 unit in the league. Yet as a defense defending against the run, the Cardinals are allowing 140.7 yards per game on the ground, fourth-lowest in the league. 

Arizona did a phenomenal job of containing Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in Week 1, holding the previous 2,000-yard rusher to just 58 yards on 17 carries. 

However, the last two weeks have left a lot to be desired for stopping the run. 

Minnesota gained 177 yards on the ground in a close Week 2 loss at State Farm Stadium, with running back Dalvin Cook averaging six yards per carry. Quarterback Kirk Cousins gained 35 yards on the ground as well. In fact, quarterbacks have accounted for 79 of the 422 yards allowed in three games.

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While a Week 3 trip to Jacksonville showed some improvement, the Jaguars were still able to gather 159 rushing yards against the Cardinals front. Jacksonville's three ball-carriers that game (James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Trevor Lawrence) all averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry on six or more attempts. 

Now, the challenge shifts to a Los Angeles Rams team with one of the league's most creative play-callers in head coach Sean McVay. 

"They're a very good team. Obviously very talented, very well coached. I think last year what stood out was we threw a pick-six in both games that ultimately was kind of the difference, and you can't do that against those teams," said head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Wednesday. "This past week, they had zero penalties (on offense), zero turnovers, I mean they're playing at a very high level and that's the sign of a coach McVay-coached team. (He) does a great job with those guys."

While the Rams did indeed have one penalty for four yards on special teams in a 34-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the sentiment remains the same: Los Angeles is a damn good team. 

Part of that success comes from the addition of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has thrived thus far in a much more effective offensive system than his previous years in Detroit. 

The good news for Arizona? The Rams aren't exactly dynamite at rushing the ball, as the team has struggled to effectively move the ball on the ground, only topping 100 yards rushing once this season. Plus, Stafford isn't much of a threat to run. He has minus-6 yards on nine attempts with a long of five yards in the first three games.

However, the Rams had the unfortunate luck of playing stout defensive fronts such as Chicago and Tampa Bay early in the season. The Cardinals are hoping to get themselves on track with a sturdy performance against a Rams team averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, tied for the second-lowest in the league with Houston. 

It's a tall task to stop any Rams offense under McVay, yet the Cardinals can turn the Rams into a one-dimensional team on Sunday with a strong performance in the trenches. 

While the passing attack for L.A. looks to again be top-flight, the Cardinals have a perfect opportunity in front of them to anchor down and once again establish themselves in stopping the run effectively much like they did against Tennessee.