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Cardinals Can't Break Down Against Top Rams

Trip to Los Angeles will be a test for secondary and offensive line

The Cardinals will need solid games from their cornerbacks like Antonio Hamilton (33) on Sunday.
The Cardinals will need solid games from their cornerbacks like Antonio Hamilton (33) on Sunday.

Following the Bengals loss, Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon expressed his displeasure in not doing enough to stop Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati's top receiver.

"You can't let their best player beat you and that's what we just did," he said.

Chase went off for 192 yards and three touchdowns, and the assignment doesn't get much easier Sunday against the Rams. The Rams (2-3) still have some of the NFL's best on both sides of the ball, and a rising star.

The new kid on the block has been rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua, a fifth-round pick that has burst onto the scene while Cooper Kupp was sidelined with an injury. In five games, Nacua has 46 receptions for 572 yards.

"His route running and just the intricacies of getting open, he looks like an eight-year vet," Gannon said. "The details of how he runs routes. The different releases that he has, his body language, his eyes, how he comes in and out of the cut. I'm sure the quarterback helps him with that and I'm sure Cooper helps him with that. So, it was a strength of his game that got stronger."

The quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has heavily relied on Nacua. It's a pass-heavy offensive scheme, which is why Stafford currently ranks fifth in the league in passing yards with 1,451. Nacua's racked up nearly 300 yards more than the next Rams receiver, Tutu Atwell, who just so happens to be Cardinals cornerback Kei'Trel Clark's college teammate.

"The main thing for us is just making sure that we are contesting those throws," Clark said. "Not playing conservative, but we're being aggressive on those guys and winning at the point of attack. Just playing our game and being confident as a back seven as well.

"Regardless of who we are guarding against, it could be Puka, it could be Cooper Kupp, Tutu Atwell, it doesn't matter because we just need to execute in all phases of the game."

And Kupp, the 2021 triple crown winner, returned last week against the Eagles after nursing a hamstring injury. It appeared as if he didn't skip a beat, finishing with 118 yards on eight receptions.

The tandem of wide receivers has allowed for Sean McVay to author up creative schemes, but as Gannon repeatedly said, on the gridiron, it starts with their field general.

"Their quarterback would be the first thing that jumps out of my mind," Gannon said. "They're good route runners, reliable, really good hands, good scheme to get them the ball in space. They're really good players."

Ironically, the Rams best player isn't the few that were mentioned above. It's defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has made a career out of wreaking havoc on an opposing offensive line and quarterback.

The nine time Pro Bowler has two and a half sacks so far, along with 20 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits.

Rookie offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. has dealt with a gauntlet of pass rushers he's blocked throughout his first five NFL games. It's going to be a collective effort to stop the future Hall of Famer.

"It goes back to staying within your technique and I think again just starting to take the fight to them," Johnson said. "He's the ultimate veteran, but at the same time, we're going to stay within our technique and do our job."

The last thing Gannon and the Cardinals (1-4) would want is to allow the opposing team's top contributors to change the complexion of the game for the third week in a row. As a defensive-minded head coach, Gannon believes that his secondary "understands explicitly what needs to be done."

Offensively, his guys are ready for Donald.

"You got to make sure that the different protections, different run game and all of the different things you want to do, he doesn't allow you to do some of those things," Gannon said. "We've got to be smart about attacking their defense. It's a really good defense, not just him."

"We've got our work cut out for us."