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The Los Angeles Rams begin their postseason march against the Arizona Cardinals tonight, the first-ever postseason game on Monday Night Football. It’s also the first playoff game at SoFi Stadium and only the fourth postseason game of Matthew Stafford’s career.
This game won’t be won by one or two players, but there are several guys on the Rams’ side who must step up in order for Los Angeles to beat the Cardinals. First and foremost? Stafford.
He’s among seven players who must play well for the Rams tonight.
Stafford is the most important player for the Rams in this game – and in their pursuit of a Super Bowl. If he throws two picks and misses open receivers the way he has at times this season, the Rams aren’t going to beat the Cardinals. I know they overcame his five total interceptions against the Vikings and Ravens, but doing that against the Cardinals is a much taller task.
Stafford will need to play within himself, not force dangerous throws when his first read isn’t open and make smart decisions under pressure. If he can do that, the Rams should win this game. But that’s far from certain after he turned it over eight times in his last four games.
Jalen Ramsey is going to step up and play well. But assuming he continues to play in the slot most of the game, that will leave Williams or David Long Jr. on the outside against A.J. Green for a good portion of the night. Green caught five passes for 67 yards and a touchdown against the Rams in Week 4 and added another seven catches for 102 yards against them 10 weeks later, so he’s feasted against Los Angeles.
Williams has had a disappointing year but he can make up for it with a great performance on the outside tonight. The Rams need him to contain Green when Ramsey is in the slot.
If there’s ever been a time for Reeder to play the game of his life, it’s tonight. He’s coming off a dreadful performance against the 49ers in Week 18 and you can bet Kliff Kingsbury is going to draw up plays to target Reeder in coverage and in the running game. Reeder has missed too many tackles and given up too many receptions this season, which has to change Monday night.
He’s only played 34 total snaps against the Cardinals this season as the No. 2 linebacker in each game, but he’ll be relied on heavily tonight against one of the toughest offenses to defend. Just like an offense is only as good as its quarterback, a defense is only as good as its weakest player. And right now, that player is Reeder.
Corbett played one of his worst games as a member of the Rams last week, allowing seven pressures and a sack against the 49ers. Now, he’ll likely go up against J.J. Watt and Jordan Phillips, which is a tough matchup for the Rams’ right guard.
Los Angeles can count on Rob Havenstein and Andrew Whitworth to hold up on the edge against Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. What they need is for Corbett to keep Watt away from Stafford and prevent him from blowing things up in the running game. Corbett was great all year, but it was a sour end to the regular season with a terrible performance against San Francisco.
Cooper Kupp is going to get his. Kingsbury admitted that much himself. But what the Rams really need is for Jefferson (and Odell Beckham Jr.) to also make plays when Stafford targets them. Jefferson, in particular, has been fairly quiet in recent weeks, outside of a 63-yard performance against the Ravens in Week 17.
He played well in both games against the Cardinals this season, catching eight passes for a total of 148 yards and two touchdowns. If he can keep up that level of play against the Cardinals’ secondary – which isn’t very good – it will go a long way for the offense. Not everything can go through Kupp.
Really, all three of the Rams’ healthy safeties – Burgess, Nick Scott and Eric Weddle – will need to step up with Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller out, but there’s increased pressure on Burgess. Scott has been a starter before. So has Weddle. Burgess has not.
And even though Weddle is expected to contribute at safety, it’s unreasonable to expect him to play the majority of the snaps. Burgess is much more likely to take on a big role in place of Fuller and Rapp, but if he struggles and finds himself out of position, the Cardinals could be off to the races.
Floyd was excellent in Week 14 against the Cardinals, registering a season-high eight pressures and four stops. It was his best game of the year, and he’ll need a repeat performance on Monday night against Murray and the Cardinals.
It’s not enough to just pressure Murray. The Rams’ outside linebackers have to contain him as a runner and prevent him from escaping the pocket. That’s a real challenge for both Floyd and Von Miller, and it’s a major factor in this game.
For the most part, the Rams have done a nice job slowing Murray down, but he had 444 total yards last time they met. The Cardinals lost that game, but if Murray has 400 yards again, the Rams shouldn’t expect to feel very comfortable tonight.