Rams’ offense still hot and cold in NFC West win over Cardinals

In 140 days, the two remaining teams in the NFL will go head-to-head at State Farm Stadium with the Lombardi Trophy up for grabs.

But Sunday? meh

The Rams are still looking for their offensive identity. The Arizona Cardinals are still looking for the end zone.

“It was a strange game,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, whose team held on to a 20-12 win despite wasting three potential touchdowns.

In the first quarter, Matthew Stafford and Allen Robinson failed to connect on back-to-back passes near the goal line.

In the second instance, a goal pass slipped through Cooper Kupp’s grip – a rarity considering he usually captures everything in his zip code.

And in the fourth, Cam Akers fumbled with the Cardinals’ drive after an impressive touchdown drive.

It wasn’t the kind of confidence booster the Rams needed going into their week four game in San Francisco, where they lost three straight games.

No one expects the offensive run through Tyler Higbee and Ben Skowronek like it did on Sunday. Not that they’re bad players, but when it comes to providing people with football and explosive plays, they’re lower down the food chain than Kupp, Robinson, Akers and others.

Of course, winning the game is their top priority, and the Rams found a way to do that by matching McVay’s Arizona record at a flawless 6-0.

If there was one group that deserved a top flight home, it was the defense, which limited the Cardinals to four field goals and did a remarkable job of keeping the elusive quarterback Kyler Murray at bay. He rushed for just eight yards and threw a whopping 58 passes — more than double Stafford’s (25) — but none for touchdowns.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) makes a catch on Cardinals safety Budda Baker.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) makes a catch on Cardinals safety Budda Baker. Arizona held Kupp to four catches for 44 yards.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

“This team is really good in the red zone, especially with Kyler,” said Bobby Wagner, Rams linebacker. “Keeping them out of the end zone is a big deal.”

The Rams executed that game plan beautifully: Keep it all in front of you, don’t let them throw it over your head, let them earn it all on long drives, don’t let Murray burn you.

Considering the Rams were missing three key defenders, they cobbled together an impressive performance, even though this Cardinals team is a shell of what got off to such a good start last season.

Not so long ago, the NFC West was the most competitive division in football. It’s lukewarm at best now, with Arizona, San Francisco and the Seattle Seahawks down 1-2 without Russell Wilson, and the Rams look largely mediocre.

Every year is different, but the Rams under McVay tend to start the season strong — he was never worse than 3-1 — hit a flat spot and then found their second wind. But there’s more sputtering in this year’s version.

The Rams were blown away by Buffalo in the first set, endured an epic meltdown against Atlanta, and then drove through to Arizona with a shrug. When they’re about to erupt, they do a good job of covering it up.

On the other hand, the NFL’s calling card is so-so this season, with 30 teams having at least one win in the first three weeks. This has only happened once since 2002. And there are only two winless teams — Houston and Las Vegas — in the first three weeks, which is only the fifth time since 1970.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates after running back Cam Akers (3) scored a touchdown against the Cardinals.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates after running back Cam Akers (3) scored a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

If one player embodied the fits-and-starts nature of Sunday’s Rams offense, it was Akers, who had two carries for minus 1 yard in the first half. He spent most of the first two quarters standing on the sidelines with his helmet on and ready to go, waiting to get back in the game.

That opportunity came in the third quarter when he had gains of four, nine, five, 14 and six yards on a drive before hopping a run around the rim, splitting two defenders like a Brunswick through bowling pins and diving into the end zone for one 14-yard touchdown.

“I saw a lot of green grass,” said Akers, who gained more yards on that drive than the first two games combined. “A lot of green grass, and I took it.”

Eventually, the crime resurfaced. Finally an identity.

On the next possession, Akers had a loss of two, a gain of one, and a fumble.

“We continue to learn our identity,” McVay said. “It’s trying to figure out how to best use a lot of the moving parts, and that’s different than in years past. … The theme of the day was just finishing those rides in the red where we’ll probably feel a little bit better if we end up scoring 30+ points. But we don’t have that.”

In the land of triple-digit temperatures, the Rams have been disconcertingly mild. On a strange Sunday, that was enough.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-09-25/rams-offense-inconsistent-beat-cardinals Rams’ offense still hot and cold in NFC West win over Cardinals

Emma Bowman

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