Rams do playoff warmup against Cardinals with defense

So, the Los Angeles Rams got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. The Rams, after bouncing Arizona out of the postseason with an 18-7 road victory against the Cardinals, will have to rely on their top-ranked defense if they want a deep playoff run. As they have shown all season, the defensive unit of the Rams came up big when the team needed them the most.

A safety for two-points and an 84-yard pick-six interception by cornerback Troy Hill turned out to be the only cushion the Rams needed to escape the upstart Cardinals.

The Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals, 18-7, to earn a Wildcard playoff berth. The Rams recorded four sacks in the team's final game of the regular season. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals, 18-7, to earn a Wildcard playoff berth. The Rams recorded four sacks in the team’s final game of the regular season. In this photo, Rams defensive back Troy Hill (22) goes up to make a play on the football. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

“Great team win right there,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said after the game. “I just can’t say enough about the defense, the way that they played. To be able to come away with a safety, a scored touchdown that gave us the lead, to be able to get the blocked field goal, they are unbelievable all day. They’ve been unbelievable all year. They’ve really been the strength of this team and I thought they showed up in a big way. Offensively, I think we’ve got to do a much better job of finishing drives in the red area. I liked the way we moved it. I thought after the first throw of the game, (QB) John Wolford was the star offensively. He made plays. We have to continue to make plays around him.

With starting quarterback Jared Goff out of the lineup, the Rams were forced to try to win this game with backup John Wolford running the offense. Wolford held up decently against an aggressive Arizona defense, completing 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards and one interception in the game. McVay thought Wolford played exceptionally.

Offensively, I think we’ve got to do a much better job of finishing drives in the red area. I liked the way we moved it. I thought after the first throw of the game, (QB) John Wolford was the star offensively,” McVay said. “He made plays. We have to continue to make plays around him.  I just thought his movement, his athleticism, some of the things where he recognized coverage, he’s hitting (RB) Cam Akers, he’s hitting (TE) Tyler Higbee down the sidelines when corners are kind of coming off and not honoring the deep part of the field. This guy’s resilience showed up in a big way. I was really impressed with him.”

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) puts the squeeze on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3). Leonard and the Rams recorded five sacks against Wilson in a 23-16 November 15, 2020 win at Sofi Stadium. The Rams play the Seahawks in an NFC Wildcard game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) puts the squeeze on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3). Leonard and the Rams recorded five sacks against Wilson in a 23-16 November 15, 2020 win at Sofi Stadium. The Rams play the Seahawks in an NFC Wildcard playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

What would probably impress McVay more is if Wolford is called on to start and lead the Rams to a road playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC West champions. The Rams travel to Seattle to square off against their longtime divisional foe on Saturday. At the center of attention of this matchup will be the Rams dominating defense trying to shut down Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.

“I think they’re a great team who I respect, but I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to go compete and see if we can put our best game plan together, go lay it out there in all three phases, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” McVay said. “I can’t wait to get started on it.”

If any unit is up to the task of putting the brakes on Seattle’s explosive offense it’s the Rams defense. The Rams are ranked No. 1 in passing and overall defense. Los Angeles is third in the league when it comes to rushing defense. That would present a formidable problem for any offense. The Rams, however, are not going up against just any quarterback or any offense.

Wilson has won a Super Bowl. He knows the pathway to the Super Bowl, having made two appearances. Now, he’s coming off one of the better seasons of his career, throwing for 4,212 yards and 40 touchdowns.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) draws the attention of a couple of Arizona Cardinals defenders during an NFC West matchup on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The Rams defeated the Cardinals, 18-7. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

“He’s doing similar things to what he’s been doing,” Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said prior to Los Angeles playing Seattle in the two team’s second encounter during the regular season. “I think they’ve been running the ball good, even a little bit more mobile. He’s still playing good football.”

The Rams lost that game. The 20-9 defeat to the Seahawks also cost the Rams the NFC West title. The first time these teams got together the Rams got the better of Wilson and the Seahawks, winning 23-16. The Rams defense was the catalyst in the win, holding Wilson and the high-powered Seattle offense to just three points in the second half of that ballgame.

The Rams sacked Wilson five times and intercepted two of his passes in the November contest. McVay shared his thoughts on the performance by his defense.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to continue to build and grow from,” McVay said after the win. “This is a great offense, someone that we have a tremendous amount of respect for, but our defense has been stout all year. You know, you can only play the teams that are on your schedule and these guys have done a great job answering the bell week in and week out the turnovers. And really, the second half play. I mean, I can’t say enough about our coaches adjustments and really they were outstanding from the jump, but really just to be able to make some of those adjustments, you see some of the looks that we get protection wise, where guys are unblocked unabated, right to (QB) Russell Wilson.”

Against Arizona, the Rams recorded four sacks of the quarterback and knocked out Cardinals starter Kyler Murray from the game. With Murray out of the ballgame, the task of winning made it much easier for McVay’s team. By beating Arizona, the Rams are in the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.

“It’s great. I love this team,” McVay said. “It has certainly been a lot of highs and then there has been some tough times that we had to really navigate through, but I love the way that the team handled this week. I love the way they rallied around John (Wolford).”

Featured image caption: Los Angeles Rams linebacker Leonard Little (54) looks to sack Arizona Cardinals quarterback Chris Streveler (15) on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The Rams defeated the Cardinals by the score of 18-7. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

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