Beating the Rams will not be easy. In fact, I don't think the Cardinals will mostly because I believe the Rams have more ways to beat the Cardinals than the Cardinals have to beat the Rams. I also think beating good teams in the playoffs without Deandre Hopkins is unlikely to happen.
My prediction aside, beating the Rams is merely an uphill battle; it's not impossible. The Cardinals did beat the Rams in Week 4 but that feels as relevant today as Bruce Arians record against Jeff Fisher.
For the Cardinals to get their first postseason win in six seasons, they will need to do these three things:
1. Throw a curveball.
- The above graphic is a damning indictment of Kingsbury's ability to make season long adjustments. The Cardinals offense inevitable weakens because of injury but rarely make major scheme or personnel adjustments. The Cardinals need to think big, like Jim Boeheim-playing-man-to-man-defense big. Could Kyler line up under center more? Could the Cardinals ask him to make a few three and five step drops with play action to mimic McVay's system? What about using Rondale Moore as a field stretching vertical threat? Or giving Chase Edmonds snaps in the slot on the opposite side of Christian Kirk? Or testing the Rams safeties and corners not named Jalen Ramsey down field early and often instead of keeping the ball around the line of scrimmage? The Cardinals needs to do something because what they were doing is no longer working.
2. Win the turnover battle.
- During the first twelve games of the season, the Cardinals were one of the better teams in the NFL with a +12 turnover margin. Over their last five games, they were at 0. Tips, bounces and deflections stopped falling into their laps and the Cardinals struggled to create turnovers. The good news is "Turnover" is actually Matthew Stafford's middle name. Stafford threw more INT's on the season than any starting QB in the league not named Trevor Lawrence, including eight in his final four games.Stafford led all NFL QB's this year in pick sixes and is the current active leader in that ignominious category. Stafford also has zero career playoff victories meaning if the Cardinals can create a turnover and really against Stafford its more like just catch the ball he throws directly at a defensive back, the Cardinals could plant the seeds of doubt they need to win in LA.
3. Win the penalty battle.
- Anyone who watched the first five games of the Wild Card weekend knows that the officiating is a huge wild card for tonights game. We don't know how much it will impact the game, who it impacts more and anything else but we do know its likely to matter. During the regular season, the Cardinals were the fourth most heavily penalized team in the NFL and the Rams were the fourth least penalized team in the NFL. The Cardinals can't afford to watch that play out in real time tonight or they'll be watching the end of their season.