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Rams Finishing Preparations for Chess Match With Cardinals

We're just one day away from the Cardinals and Rams meeting for a third time on Monday night, and both teams know their opponent fairly well.

As humans, familiarity is often sought after for comfort. 

We enjoy routine, and the more we understand something, the more we're willing to accept it. 

However, in the world of pro football, familiarity isn't always comfortable, especially when it comes to divisional opponents. 

The Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams are set to meet for a third time on Monday night. The two teams split their first two meetings with the road team emerging victorious in each instance. 

This time, the winner advances to the next round of the postseason while the loser packs their bags until next season. 

Arizona and Los Angeles have played each other twice a season since the Cardinals joined the division from the NFC East following the league's realignment in 2002, yet this will be the first meeting between the two in the playoffs since 1975. 

Aside from the Rams and Cardinals seeing each other twice each year, their respective head coaches (and play-callers) consider each other good friends. 

“He’s been awesome,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday about Rams head coach Sean McVay. 

“We have a great relationship. Probably would be even closer if we weren’t in the same division, but it’s kind of hard to share some trade secrets whenever you’re playing each other a couple times a year.

"But I think the world of Sean. The job he’s done there. The consistency they’ve had since he’s been there, so it’s been fun to watch him have that type of success and I’m always pulling for him except when they play us.”

Since taking over Los Angeles, McVay holds a strong 9-1 record against the Cardinals. Only two of those games have been within one possession.

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Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is still in his first season with the Rams, but he understands just how much of a chess match the Cardinals and Rams present each other. 

“It's almost scary," said Morris on Friday. 

"You go to those guys and you lose. And then I remember the first game we played them when we lost and I went to those guys and I say, ‘Hey man, great game plan. That was awesome.’ And then I remember the second time we beat those guys and the head coach came to me and said, ‘Man, it was a great plan, Rah.’ And those are the scariest moments, because he's just trying to lull you to sleep in that chess match, right? 

"So let me go back to the drawing board, not try to act like you can recycle information. And you got to go through the whole process over and over again and make sure you do it right. And I think that's what the best thing about the chess game that you're talking about. It's like, what do you want to change? What is changing too much? And what do you want to repeat to try to see if you can get the same results.”

Offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell also alluded to Monday night as a chess match.

"It's a great question because you could talk yourself out of a lot just by knowing some of the things you've not only put on tape versus this opponent, but some of the other people that maybe play similar styles or similar matchups throughout the week in and week out process of the NFL season," said O'Connell. 

"But at the same time, that's why we teach a lot of the things we do from a core foundational standpoint of our system. Because everything is built off the marriage of the run and the pass. It's built off of sameness and likeness and, really, attacking the defense in a smart way, having the ultimate respect for this opponent because they've played really, really good defense all year long. 

"They've got skill players. They've got defensive skill at all three levels. It really is a challenge for us. So really what you're doing is you're really measuring the things you've been able to have success on, maybe things they've had success on against us. And then where does it all meet somewhere in the middle where we're actively trying to maybe take advantage of any area that we see and I'm sure they're doing the same over there. 

"So, the chess match will go on. It obviously goes on all the way up until kickoff, but then, that can be a separator during that three-and-a-half-hour window on Monday night.”

On the other side of the chess board is Kingsbury, who's an avid watcher of shows on various streaming services but has not publicly stated if he's watched the popular chess-centralized Queens Gambit series. 

However, Kingsbury will once again have an opportunity to put his pieces in the right spots come Monday night. We'll see who plays better when the stakes are higher than before.