Twickenham played host to its first – and London’s third – NFL game of the season this weekend, between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams (4-2 before this game) lost here to the Giants in 2016, but came out on top this year against their 3-3 divisional rivals, with the final score 33-0 in their favour.
The Rams now have their first London victory at the third time of asking, but the Cardinals will not be looking back fondly on their first visit to the UK, as they not only failed to score, but also lost starting Quarterback Carson Palmer to a broken arm.
Another bad day for All Day
When I wrote about the Saints’ victory over the Dolphins at Wembley, I suggested that Adrian Peterson needed to move to a different franchise if he wanted to reignite his career. It looked like I was proved right when he was traded to the Cardinals, who have been in desperate need of a rusher since David Johnson was put on Injured Reserve in mid-September. In last week’s win over the Bucs, Peterson looked back to his old self with 134 rushing yards (he managed just 81 in 4 games with the Saints) and 2 touchdowns, but he came back down to Earth with a crash at Twickenham.
Peterson amassed just 21 yards from 11 carries (1.9 yards per rush) against the Rams, while catching 1 pass for 12 yards. Granted the 20-0 halftime score meant Arizona had to go away from the rush in the second half, but even when given the chance he struggled to produce anything in this game, with his longest rush being for a whopping 6 yards. Jared Goff is not considered a running threat and even he managed 2 rushes for 13 yards and a 9-yard TD in this game.
There were plenty of things against Peterson in this game: the 2nd half scoreline, the loss of Carson Palmer (when the starting QB goes out of the game, shutting down the rush becomes the priority for a defense) and the quality of the Rams front 7, but if Peterson wants to remain a major force in the NFL once Johnson returns form injury he needs to find a way to up the quality of his play to a level we would expect of a former NFL MVP. It is a shame to see Peterson struggling so much, but he missed most of last season with a knee injury and is the wrong side of 30 in a physically demanding position that generally favours split reps rather than a main rusher now. I would love to see him recapture his old form, but I would not be surprised to see him hang up his boots at the end of the season.
Use it or lose it
Turnovers can prove costly in a number of sports, but maybe none more so than American Football. In this game the Rams won the turnover battle with 2 interceptions of the Cardinals QBs to just 1 interception of Jared Goff – which if I’m honest shouldn’t have stood as the officials missed a pass interference by the Arizona secondary that stopped the Rams receiver making it to the ball. Turnovers are costly because it stops an attack in its tracks and allows the opposition to control the game and run down the clock if they are ahead.
But as important as the turnover is, how the team performs off the back of the turnover is also crucial. In this match, the Rams converted the first interception into an 18-yard TD. They then converted the second (with just half a minute left in the 2nd quarter) into a field goal as the clock ran out. By contrast the Cardinals, who had missed a field goal on their opening drive of the game, were forced to punt after a hold and a false start on consecutive plays by Tight End Jermaine Gresham pushed them back 15 yards to take them out of field goal range. As important as it is to win the turnover battle, these turnovers must be taking advantage of. At 10-0 points scored off of turnovers, the Rams certainly did that!
Last season the Rams finished their first season back in LA with a 4-12 record. Even if they lose all their remaining games this season (highly unlikely!) they will finish with a better record in 2017 as they are already 5-2 this year. It’s not just that they are getting results, everything looks so much better!
Sean McVay may be the youngest Head Coach in NFL history (10 of the Cardinals players were older than him!) but he has done a good job of getting this offense going to complement a defense that has terrorised teams in recent years. By bringing in Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, the Rams upped the quality of their receiver corps, giving the young Jared Goff more options in the passing game. The improved quality of the passing game also means that opposing defences cannot stack 8 in the box to stop the rush, so it is no real surprise to see Todd Gurley back to the form he showed in 2015. His 106 yards and 1 TD off 22 rushing attempts this weekend was his 4th 100-yard game of the season and he also chipped in with 48 yards off 4 catches against Arizona. With improved receivers and a better rushing game, a lot of pressure has been taken off of Jared Goff who looked poor last year, now he is looking like the number 1 overall draft pick that people expected.
The Rams already had a competitive defense and special teams, now they have the offense as well and look the complete package. As it stands, they are currently sitting to of the NFC West. I think that Palmer’s injury will be the end of Arizona’s playoff chances, so it now comes down to a shootout between them and the Seahawks for the Division title. I think that Seattle will have enough to beat them to 1st this year, but I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the Rams make it into the playoffs as a wildcard, especially considering the state of the other divisions.