The Arizona Cardinals defense did not handle the San Francisco 49ers well in Week 16, leading to a 20-12 defeat. They played well on third down, but the problem was they didn’t have to face many. San Francisco had only nine third downs in the entire game, converting only two of them.
The running game was the problem, as Jeff Wilson blew up for 183 yards on the ground.
While the Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams this weekend, according to Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, it is basically the same offense they saw in Week 16. It will just be different personnel.
“This offense is very similar to last week’s offense,” Joseph told reporters on Thursday. “It goes back to Coach (Mike) Shanahan in Denver, on first and second down, it won’t change much. It’s a zone-blocking scheme.”
Rams head coach Sean McVay worked with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in Washington as part of the offensive staff under Kyle’s father Mike, who won Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in the 1990s. Kyle was offensive coordinator and McVay became offensive coordinator when Shanahan left to be OC for the Atlanta Falcons.
So their offenses, while they run with different personnel, have the same schemes. From the Niners to the Rams, “on first and second down, it won’t change at all,” Joseph said.
So what happened against the 49ers last week?
“What we didn’t do last week was tackle well,” he explained. ‘What we didn’t last week was fit the run on the d-line.”
He said that the problems against the 49ers were physical up front.
“It was more about their offensive line knocking us back,” Joseph said. “If you run lateral with that running game and they knock you off the ball, it creates natural creases for the runner with this offense.”
Against the Rams, the Cardinals know it starts with slowing the run, especially with John Wolford starting at quarterback, who has never played in an NFL regular-season game.
“It’s a run-first offense, even with their starting quarterback,” Joseph said. ‘That’s where it starts. Off the running game is where the boots and play-action passes work. So if you can stop the run early and make the boots and play-action passes look like passes, that’s the key.”
If they can get the Rams to third down, Joseph likes his chances. That is where Wolford’s lack of experience will show.
“Having a quarterback with experience to convert third downs is always a good thing for an offense,” he said. “If you don’t, it’s probably a bad thing.”
The defensive line has to play better. The linebackers will have to fill the gaps and the defensive backs will have to be the ones to finish the play but not eight or nine yards down the field.
“It’s our job up front to knock it back to stay square,” he said. “Linebackers have to fit downhill and DBs have to crack replace and tackle.”
If they do their jobs, it should mean safeties Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, who is expected back in action this weekend, should make a lot of plays.
“If we don’t, it will be a long day again.”
With the playoffs on the line for the Cardinals and with the offense facing the No. 1 defense, the defense’s job will be to shut down the Rams and make Wolford make mistakes.
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