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Monday Night Football Preview: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals


Line: Cardinals -2.5, Total: 51


Monkey off their Backs

The NFC West rivalry between the Rams and Cardinals has been pretty one-sided in recent memory, with LA coming into 2021 on an eight-game winning streak. Since Sean McVay became the Rams head coach in 2017, he had never lost a game against Arizona … until Week 4 of this season. In McVay’s first eight games vs. the Cardinals, his Rams outscored them 251-91 (outscoring by an average of 20 points per game). In those games, LA scored 30+ points in all but one contest and held Arizona to fewer than 10 points in five of the eight games, while never allowing its opponent to score 30+ points.

That all changed on October 3, when the Cards stormed into Los Angeles and beat the Rams 37-20. Arizona racked up 465 yards of total offense, the most the Rams had allowed in a regular-season game since 2019 (475 yards in Week 15 by the Cowboys). The Cardinals turned the Rams over twice (one interception and one fumble), which is one of the keys to beating LA, which is 2-4 when it turns the ball over multiple times and 6-0 when it turns it over one time or fewer. Arizona rushed for 216 yards; it was the first time LA had allowed 200+ rushing yards since that same 2019 game against Dallas. In his 4+ seasons as Rams head coach, McVay has seen the opposing team rush for 200+ yards only five times (1-4 in those games).

If the Cards can do it again, it will be their first back-to-back wins and season sweep over the Rams since 2014 -- when they were located in St. Louis. Since the move to LA in 2016, the Rams are 9-2 against the Cardinals. Prior to that, the Cardinals had won 14 of the previous 19 meetings. The last time Arizona won back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Rams was during their previous stint in the City of Angels, back in 1992 & 1993 -- when the Redbirds were known as the Phoenix Cardinals.


Competition Level Matters

The Rams won and covered against Jacksonville last week, which snapped a five-game spread losing streak. After starting the season 4-2 against-the-spread, LA has gone 1-5 since. Of the five games that it has covered this season, four have come against teams with a losing record (the only win was against 2-0 Tampa Bay in Week 3). Against teams who currently have a winning record this season, the Rams are 1-5 ATS (including a loss to these Cardinals). LA has also been a poor bet after a big win in the past two seasons, going 0-7 ATS after a win by 14+ points.

On the other side, Arizona has been a very strong team vs. the number, going 9-3 over its first 12 games. Against teams with a winning record, the Cardinals are 5-1 ATS this season (the only loss was against Green Bay in a Thursday night game in Week 8). Worth noting, though, that all three of the Cardinals ATS losses this season have come at home (2-3 ATS at home, 7-0 ATS on the road). Arizona is 3-7 ATS in its previous 10 home games (dating back to the middle of last season) and 4-10 ATS in its last 14 games as a home favorite (dating back to the start of 2018).

Monday Night Football is setting up as a Pros vs. Joes according to Action Network, as the home favorite Cardinals are attracting 62% of the tickets, but the road underdog Rams are garnering 67% of the money, including sharp action.


Struggling Stafford

The Rams started the season 8-1 and Matthew Stafford was looking like a front-runner for the MVP Award who had been held back by playing with Detroit for the first 12 seasons of his career. However, a three-game losing skid that was finally snapped last week with a win over the Jaguars has put a damper on that conversation, as well as the discussion about the Rams as possibly the best team in the NFL.

So, what happened? In LA’s first eight games, Stafford was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions. During the three-game slide, Stafford was sacked nine times and threw five interceptions. It’s hard to place the blame on the offensive line because according to ESPN Analytics, the Rams have been the second-best, pass-blocking unit in the league this season with a 68% pass-block win rate (Browns are first at 69%). Both starting offensive tackles, Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein are tied for 3rd among all OTs with a 93% pass-block win rate, making the Rams the only team with two starting tackles in the Top 10 in that category. Bad news for this game, however, as Havenstein was placed on the COVID list on Sunday and will now miss this Monday night contest.

So, a struggling Stafford will now have to make do without his starting right tackle, putting even more pressure on the quarterback to find his early-season form. The sacks and interceptions have been a problem, but the most glaring issue has been his inability to connect on throws that he should be completing. For the season, Stafford has an xCOMP% +/- of minus-1.1. Among QBs with at least 200 passing attempts, Stafford ranks eighth-worst in the NFL in that category according to Next Gen Stats. Much of that was driven by his poor performances starting in a win over Houston in Week 8 and then continuing during the three-game losing skid. Here are Stafford’s xCOMP% +/- for those four individual games: minus-6.7, minus-7.6, minus-3.9, and minus-8.7. Prior to Week 8, Stafford hadn’t posted back-to-back negative numbers in that category all season. It should be noted that he bounced back with a +5.1-mark last week, but it came against one of the worst teams in the league.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, boast two pass rushers in the Top 15 in sacks this season with Markus Golden (tied for eighth with 10 sacks) and Chandler Jones (tied for 11th with 8.5 sacks). Arizona and Carolina are the only NFL teams that have two players with 8+ sacks this season. Although, it should be noted that Jones had five sacks in the Cardinals’ season-opening win against Tennessee and has recorded only 3.5 in his nine games since (missed Weeks 6 and 7 due to COVID protocol). Despite ranking tied for fourth with 32 sacks (entering Sunday’s games), the Cardinals are middle-of-the-pack with a 41% pass-rush win rate (tied for 14th in the league). Sacks are a major part of Arizona’s success this season, as the team has recorded multiple sacks in a game eight times and has gone 8-0 in those contests.

If Stafford and the Rams want to get back to the Super Bowl contenders that everyone believed them to be, they will need to keep the quarterback’s uniform clean. And when given the opportunities, Stafford has to connect on the throws that he is more than capable of completing. Oh, and they’ll have to stop fellow MVP-candidate, Kyler Murray (NFL-best 112.2 passer rating), but that’s a conversation for a future STAT Stack…