Overview: This game may tell us a lot about the character of the 2019 Los Angeles Rams. Following a debacle of a performance Monday night in a blow out loss to the Ravens, will we see an angry team that is out to prove they are not the listless, beaten group we seemed to see on Monday night? Or will we see a team that is just mailing in a season that they would probably like to forget at this point? We will see on Sunday afternoon. The Arizona Cardinals can win this game make no mistake. They are better than their record would indicate, and they came very close to beating the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers recently
Rams Defense vs. Cardinals Offense: The Rams defense in 2019 has been a real Jekyll and Hyde unit. If we take away the Ravens and Bucs games (and we wish we could), they have been outstanding, one of the better defenses in the league. However, they are coming off of a terrible game on Monday night in which they could not stop a nosebleed. The challenge this week will be another highly mobile quarterback. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is listed as questionable going into this game with a hamstring injury, but he practiced on Friday, and it would be a shock if he did not play on Sunday. His mobility hampered, but the Rams cannot count on that. Murray has had a good year, justifying his selection as the top overall pick in the 2019 draft with a 91.2 passer rating and 418 yards rushing. Unlike many rookies, he has not been a turnover machine either, throwing only five picks vs. 14 touchdowns. Like the Ravens Lamar Jackson, the Cardinals will feature Murray on some designed running plays, assuming the hamstring injury is not a huge issue. Did the Rams learn anything about how to counter a running quarterback after giving up 111 yards rushing to Jackson on Monday night? Let us hope so, or it could be another long day for Rams fans.
Murray sacked 35 times, and his offensive line is not high, so this could be a good day for Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, and Clay Matthews. That is even more likely if Murray's hamstring is a problem.
Even with Murray running for 418 yards (a lot for an NFL quarterback at this point in the season), the Cardinals are the only middle of the pack in team rushing, checking in at number 15. Part of the problem is that running back David Johnson, who not long ago was considered the Cardinals "bellcow" as a runner, has only a little over 300 yards. Chase Edmonds has logged 295 yards on the ground for Arizona, and while he has been battling injuries, he is expected to play on Sunday. Former Dolphin Kenyan Drake has 374 yards, second only to Murray on the team. The Cardinals employ a committee approach to running the ball, and while Murray might be the scariest threat, these guys as a group are reasonably valid.
We cannot talk about the Arizona Cardinals offense without mentioning the great Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver. That is not just an honorary mention either, as the future Hall of Famer has 55 receptions for 593 yards. (leading the team in that category). Fitzgerald will probably see a lot of Rams corners Troy Hill and Nickel Robey-Coleman in this game. Fitz will not run away from many people at this stage in his career (he was never a real "burner"), but he holds a 4-inch height advantage over Hill and 7 inches over Robey-Coleman and can still catch just about anything thrown his way. Murray may look Fitzgerald's way on third down and in the end zone, hoping to use his height advantage and knowledge in crucial situations.
The other primary receiving threat for Arizona is Christian Kirk, who has over 500 yards receiving and gets many targets from Murray. He will probably see a lot of Jalen Ramsey in this game, and that should be a good matchup of physically-gifted players and one that could determine the outcome of this game. Ramsey will be under the spotlight, following his altercation with former Ram Marcus Peters following Monday's loss to Baltimore. Ramsey physically restrained from going after Peters (after the game), who allegedly yelled Ramsey's name towards the Rams sidelines after picking off a Jared Goff pass.
It is hard to know what Ram's defense will show up from week to week. We are going to hope for the best in this one.
Rams Offense vs. Arizona Defense: On paper, the Rams should be able to put up points on the Cardinals defense, but at this point, who knows? The biggest disappointment of what has been a very disappointing season for the Los Angeles Rams is the offense, which has gone from being elite to not-very-good in a short time. The Cardinals are rated 31st in team defense, despite the presence of two of the league's better players in cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Chandler Jones.
In fairness, Peterson served an eight-game suspension, so the defense that takes the field on Sunday will be noticeably better than the unit the Cardinals have fielded for most of the year.
The Rams can still move the ball through the air, coming in ranked as the 7th rated passing attack in the league. Peterson will likely be locked up on Rams receiver Robert Woods most of the time, and that should be a good battle if both players are at the top of their game.
Jones will hope to take advantage of rookie tackle Bobby Evans, who has been better than expected in his two previous starts. At this point, the Rams have to be thinking about how to fix their dreadful offensive line for 2020, and so far, Evans looks like a guy who could be part of the solution. He has more than held his own in his first two starts, including a battle with the Bears' Khalil Mack a couple of weeks ago. However, Jones will present a severe test, coming into this game with 12.5 sacks. We do not know whether the Rams will try to get Evans some help against Jones, but the last thing Jared Goff needs in this game is a steady diet of Chandler Jones in his backfield.
So what is the deal with Todd Gurley and the Rams running game? It is week 13, and we still do not know if Gurley is injured or the victim of poor blocking and questionable play-calling. Gurley looked like his old self two weeks ago against the Bears, racking up 133 yards from scrimmage. However, on Monday night against the Ravens, he virtually disappeared. The Rams overall only ran the ball nine times, and two of those were desperation runs by Jared Goff. A play call balance of 9 runs versus 37 passes, as we saw on Monday night, is not a formula for success in the NFL.
Yes, they were behind for the entire game, but if Chandler Jones and the Cardinals defense know they can forget about stopping the run on Sunday and tee off on Goff (as other teams have been able to do this season), the Rams may take another "L'' on Sunday.
By the way, what has happened to Cooper Kupp? He looked like an all-pro over the first nine games of the season and has suddenly been silent over the last three games. The Rams need him back
We will go ahead check this box for the Rams, but the offense is such a question mark right now that it is hard to know who has the edge. We will hope for a bounce-back for the Rams and play the optimist.
Edge: Rams (we hope)
Special Teams: Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein are still probably the best kicking duo in the NFL. The Rams special teams have certainly had some lapses this season, but we still give them the edge in this game.
Prediction: 2.5 points favor the Rams in this game, but who knows what we will see on Sunday. There is an old rule in football that we should never bet against a good team coming off of a bad game. Monday's outing for the Rams was undoubtedly a bad game. Are they still a good team? We may find out on Sunday.
Rams 30 Cardinals 24