There has been one constant during the three seasons that Sean McVay has been the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams: They defeat the Cardinals — usually handily.
Whether it was with Bruce Arians as head coach in 2017, Steve Wilks in 2018 or Kliff Kingsbury last season, the Rams have scored at least 31 points in all six games and have outscored Arizona 195-56.
In fact, Arizona was the final team the Rams played under the regime of former head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher was fired with three games remaining in the 2016 season, the Rams' first in their return to Los Angeles. With special-teams coordinator John Fassel serving as the interim head coach, the Cardinals blistered Los Angeles 44-6 on the final Sunday of the season, Jan. 1, 2017. Just 11 days later, on the one-year anniversary of the league's approval of the franchise to relocate from St. Louis, the Rams hired McVay, who was serving as the formerly-known Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator at the time.
The Rams were 4-12 in 2016, but since the arrival of McVay, they are 40-19 in the regular season.
In McVay's tenure against the Cardinals, there have been two shutouts – 33-0 in London in 2017 and 34-0 in 2018 in Los Angeles. In games at State Farm Stadium, the total is 97-32 with scores of 32-16 in 2017, 31-9 in 2018 and 34-7 in 2019.
However, the one game that provides the Cardinals hope is the final game of last season in Los Angeles, which the Rams won 31-24. The five previous games were decided by a combined count of 164-32.
That specific game was tied 17-17 after three quarters, but the Rams scored two touchdowns to forge a 31-17 lead. The Cardinals got the final points on running back Kenyan Drake’s 1-yard rush with 3:53 remaining.
Arizona got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 1:00 remaining and managed to reach the Rams 46, but the final play came with four seconds left on the clock.
Playing with an injured hamstring, quarterback Kyler Murray gained no yards on two runs, but completed 26 of 42 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said there’s no magical formula the team implemented for those games. After all, the Cardinals’ combined record for those seasons was 16-31-1 and 8-23-1 the last two seasons.
"We just have, I guess, a great game plan that everybody sticks to it,” Donald said. “Everybody just playing good football and then it just shows. I don't know. We just play ball, then the game plays out how it plays out. I think guys just going out there, executing what they've got to execute, playing at a high level and dominating."
Said Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, “They do a great job of changing the pace of the game, of the tempo, but we just have to be ready for that. They get a lot of free plays when teams are not ready. So that was our point of emphasis this week. We know these guys can come out fast. We know, they're going to wait until the play clock gets down to about 12 to 15 seconds. We have to be dialed in to that and once they make a big play, we know they're going to hurry up the offense to try to keep us on our heels. So we have to be able to weather the storm. And that's going to be the main key for us in Sunday's game.”
Peterson added that the key is communication. “One of the reasons why they do want to go fast is to create a communication problem,” he said. “As long as we're on the same page, understanding when they're trying to go fast and when they're trying to catch us off guard. You just have to be ready to roll.”
That is certain. It’s possible the current 6-5 Cardinals have to beat the Rams at least once in the two times they will play in the last five weeks of the season in order to make a serious playoff push. If they are swept, that provides little margin for error in fulfilling their expectation of being a postseason team.