The Arizona Cardinals took out Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday 37-20. This kept Arizona undefeated and gave the team sole possession of first place in the NFC West. The game highlighted an incredible statistic that has developed over McVay’s four-plus season in charge of the Rams. It also might have given other NFL teams a roadmap to take LA down.
Sean McVay has an incredible record when leading at the half and a terrible one when down
Sean McVay is the boy wonder of NFL coaches. At just 30-years-old when he took over the LA Rams, McVay was the youngest head coach ever in NFL history. He was almost a full year younger than Lane Kiffin when he got his first job with the Oakland Raiders.
In just four full seasons with the Rams, McVay has established himself as one of the most innovative and successful coaches currently in the NFL. Even with underperforming No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff under center, McVay’s still compiled an impressive 46-22 record and even reached the 2018 Super Bowl.
Even with all the success, a worrisome pattern has developed under McVay.
When the Rams are ahead at halftime, they are incredible. McVay has an astonishing 40-0 record when the team leads at the break. As impressive as that is, it also means that the Rams are an abysmal 6-22 when trailing after two quarters.
This incredible stat gives teams a blueprint to beat LA. Jump out early, and you’re in good shape. Fall behind from the jump, and you’re not going home a winner. Teams should be throwing the kitchen sink at McVay and the Rams early on to ensure they have the lead at halftime.
The problem is, this is easier said than done. Unless you have a formula that the Arizona Cardinals showed off this weekend.
The Arizona Cardinals exposed the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4
The LA Rams have a strong defense with an incredible pass-rush — led by three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald — and a ball-hawking secondary that can take advantage of rushed throws.
Veteran quarterback Matt Stafford leads the offense and has a great mix of offensive skill players led by the receiving duo of Cooper Kupp and Robert Wood. Not many teams can compete with a team as balanced as the Rams.
The Cardinals are built to do exactly that, though.
What nullifies a great pass rush? An uber-elusive QB like the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. On Sunday, Murray scampered around the field, buying time for his big-play receivers like A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins to get free down the field. This negated Donald and his D-line mates as well as Jalen Ramsey and the opportunistic secondary.
On defense, the Cardinals did the opposite. They pressured Stafford into two big mistakes that gave the Cards a 2-0 edge in the turnover battle.
Having a mobile QB, playmaking receivers, and a turnover-forcing defense isn’t all that common in the NFL. It is why getting a halftime lead on the Rams isn’t so simple. However, the problem for the Rams is where some of the best teams in the league that are built this way are located.
The Rams should be (a little) worried about the formula to beat them
The good news for the LA Rams is that there are only so many teams in the league that feature a QB with escapability, big-play weapons, and a playmaking defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills fit this bill, as do the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens on their best days. And, the jury is still out, but the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders might also fit into this category.
What do these teams all have in common? They are all in the AFC. So, the Rams only have to worry about one of them in the postseason and only if they make it to the Super Bowl.
The NFC doesn’t have a preponderance of these types of teams. The Dallas Cowboys might fall into this category if the defense keeps up its surprisingly high level of play, and the Green Bay Packers might as well if 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers can keep up his level for an entire season.
The biggest problem for the Rams is that the NFC teams we know have the pieces to beat the Rams are all in the NFC West with Sean McVay’s team. The only QB in the league with the same escapability as Murray is a fellow former baseball star in Russell Wilson. After that, it might be San Francisco 49ers rookie Trey Lance.
The Seahawks, Niners, and Cardinals are all well equipped to take a lead into halftime against LA and McVay. This means that, while the Rams have the talent to get out of the NFC and go to the Super Bowl, they may struggle to get out of their own division and get to the playoffs first.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference