The X-Factor in Rams vs Cards: Adrian Wilson

Adrian Wilson takes on Steven JacksonAdrian Wilson took it as his personal mission to “welcome” Sam Bradford to the NFL in week one. He had a superhuman game against the Rams, flying all over the field with abandon and ferocity, adding to his reputation as a Ram Killer. He accounted for Sam Bradford’s first career interception, and grabbed a second INT to ice the game in the final minutes. He blocked a punt, and skied over a would be blocker to sack Bradford on a blitz. In short, Wilson was a monster.

He looks like a linebacker,” says Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “He’s one of the biggest darn safeties you’ll ever see. He does a lot of work near the line of scrimmage. We’ve got to get a blocker on him.”

But somewhere along the way during this lost season in the desert, Wilson became a huge liability on defense; Pro Football Focus currently has him ranked as one of their five worst safeties. What’s going on here? And how will it affect the Rams’ gameplan this weekend?

Cardinals’ Defense under the Microscope

Firstly, to get a handle on Wilson’s poor rating, I reached out to the guys at PFF.

He’s been a liability in coverage this season, and to be honest, it seems like that whole D hasn’t been trying for awhile

Secondly, we need to explore the numbers for Wilson’s performance.

Weeks 1-7: Thrown at 10 times, only six passes completed for 87 yards.
Weeks 8-12: Thrown at 19 times, 15 passes completed for 253 yards.

Just to provide some context, Arizona was 3-3 and very much in division contention after Week 7; they have not won a game since. Defensively, the Cardinals were seldom as good as they were in Week one, though they had some shining moments here and there. Essentially, what was a bi-polar unit has now become a terminally depressed unit capable of being run or or thrown on, whatever the opponent’s game plan requires.

Weeks 1-7: 368.7 yards per game given up. 26.6 ppg.
Weeks 8-12: 428.4 yards per game given up. 31.8 ppg.

However, Wilson still stands as the surly Goliath in the path of the Rams’ offense. Something about the blue and gold just gets him going. He has more career solo tackles (80), more sacks (7.5), more interceptions (6) and more passes batted down (14) against the Rams than any other team. And as one of the few professional players at full health on this defense, he can become that presence that the defensive unit could rally behind.

At this point, though, all his seniority and stature in the backfield have given him is a clear vantage point on all that is going wrong with the defense today.

“We’re not playing together — it’s obvious,” Wilson said. “We’re not sure where guys are supposed to be when we’ve been running the same calls for 10 weeks or so. We have to believe in each other, and we have to believe that that person is going to be in that spot. We talk about it all the time, and it’s gotten to the point now where it’s late in the season. November’s done, now it’s December, and we have to get it done.”

— Adrian Wilson, quoted by Mike Sando

Last year, I thought that the elevation of Bill Davis as the defensive coordinator in Arizona, replacing the deposed Clancy Pendergast, was a key factor in the division. And last year, Davis could seem to do no wrong, as the Cardinals’ D ranked better (14th overall) than any point in the last six years. This year, however, whether it’s the difficulty of replacing stalwart veterans Karlos Dansby and Antrelle Rolle, or whether Davis has lost his magic touch, the Cards’ on D have sunk to new depths (31st overall).

Rams’ Gameplan

There isn’t really a pattern here that’s easy to identify, but that may not be a problem. In recent weeks, Wilson has been beaten by slot receivers (notably Percy Harvin, 2 huge catches in Week 9), tight ends (Visanthe Shiancoe), deep threats (Deon Butler and Ben Obomanu, two catches totaling 103 yards in week 10), and running backs (Cadillac Williams, 3 catches in Week 8).

This implies that all Sam Bradford needs to do is play his game of “find the open man” that he shredded Parrish Cox and the Denver Broncos’ secondary with last week.

I’ll tell you what, that guy’s a player,” says Wilson of the Rams’ emerging star at quarterback. “He’s improved dramatically from the first game to where he is now. He’s not waiting for the routes to develop. He knows where he’s going with the football right away.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” concludes Wilson. No word on whether he was licking his chops at the time.