When the Los Angeles Rams take the field for Week 3 of the 2022 NFL Season, they will be facing a familiar opponent.
In fact, to use the word ‘familiar’ might be a massive understatement.
The Rams will travel to Glendale, Arizona to lock horns with the Arizona Cardinals for a Sept. 25 showdown at State Farm Stadium. Sunday will mark the fourth time within the past year that the Rams and Cards will meet on the gridiron.
The two divisional rivals met on Oct. 3, of last season at SoFi Stadium, a game won by the Cardinals by a final score of 37-20. Los Angeles earned victories in the second and third matchups within the past 12 months; a 30-23 win over the Cardinals on Dec. 13 and a 34-11 triumph on wild card weekend against Arizona on Jan. 17, 2022.
The NFC West co-habitants clearly know each other well. Seeing teams so often within a compact period of time has both its advantages and its drawbacks, especially for a Los Angeles offense that has yet to hit its stride. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is quite cognizant of the challenges presented by a Cardinals defense that is well-versed in his tendencies, both positive and negative.
“I think they know us. We know them,” Stafford told reporters on Wednesday. “Every year is a little bit different, players are different, schemes a little bit different, how those players fit into that scheme, all of it. But they're a really talented football team, obviously really well coached, both offensively and defensively so it will be a big challenge for us.”
Despite the capabilities of Arizona’s defense on all three levels, their defense is largely paced by star defensive end J.J. Watt. Though he may be currently be constrained by a calf injury, Watt was a defensive factor in the Cardinals' 29-23 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. Watt logged two tackles, one sack and one run-stuff last Sunday. He was a limited participant at Wednesday's practice.
Still, Stafford realizes that even a hobbled Watt is capable of changing the complexity of the Rams’ upcoming Week 3 contest. His mere presence is often enough to allow Arizona’s defenders to play with more aggression and from more comfortable alignments.
“He's a really smart, instinctual player,” Stafford said of Watt. “Obviously, he's as physically gifted as they come. (He) does an unbelievable job of taking his chances and when he does take his chances, he's usually right. He's really great in loose play situations, whether quarterbacks booting out or maybe he gets stymied down a rush. He does a really nice job of getting his hands up. You see that kind of coming through in some other players on their defensive line … playing a little bit like him (and) doing a nice job.”
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While attempting to marginally disrupt Watt may be a focal point for Los Angeles’ offensive coaching staff, head coach Sean McVay is preparing a game plan designed to neutralize Arizona’s collective defensive efforts. To do so, he must delve into the minds of Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Much like the players on the field, the two coaches have in-depth knowledge of each other.
“I think on the defensive side, Vance [Joseph] does a great job of utilizing different personnel groupings,” McVay said. “There's some foundational philosophies, but he's always got new wrinkles that he's added every single offseason. He's always cognizant of the new players and the personnel that he has, and then how does that relate to putting these guys in the right spots? You do want to make sure that you use your previous inventory, but you don't want to dive too deep into it.
As both sides intend to take one game at a time, McVay also understands that his worthy opponents will look to the past for insight, as well. Truth be told, they will be doing likewise.
They do a good job of being able to mix it up, but you do utilize some of those previous games too.”
The Rams and Cardinals are set for kickoff at 1:25 p.m. PT on Sunday.
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