Overview: Rams Coach Sean McVay is 6-0 against Arizona, but this a much-improved Cardinals team. The Rams, meanwhile, are coming off an awful performance in a loss to a 49ers team they should have easily defeated. In particular, Jared Goff had a lousy game, throwing a couple of bad interceptions, including one inexcusably picked off by Niner's defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw touchdown. However, interceptions happen; however, getting intercepted by a defensive lineman should be an extreme rarity if it ever happens at all.
Goff did the same against the Miami Dolphins in Week #8. Even coach McVay who is rarely publicly critical of players, commented after the game last week that Goff needs to secure the ball.
The question, could Jared Goff become the next Jay Cutler, a quarterback who is physically talented but continually makes boneheaded decisions? Or just the evolution of a player who has a chance to be an elite-level quarterback at some point? Jared Goff has been both of those players at various times this season. The Rams badly need the good Jared Goff to take the field on today.
Coaching: Sean McVay got outcoached last week versus the 49ers. In general, his play-calling didn't seem up to par, and on Ram's previous series, when they could have won the game, it seemed wildly unimaginative. They ended up punting the ball away for what turned out to be the Niners game-winning drive against San Francisco.
He's facing a similar head man on the opposite side of the field, a young, offensive-minded coach in the Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury. Many people believe that the Cardinals' hiring of Kingsbury was an effort to find the next Sean McVay.
The Cardinals also has one of the game's better defensive coordinators in Vance Joseph, and the chess game between McVay and Joseph when the Rams have the ball is yet another of the intriguing "game within the game" matchups that make this contest an interesting one. Similarly, the Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is a rising star. What he will do to try to contain Murray and the explosive Cardinals offense remains to be seen, but Staley has made the right decisions more often than not this year.
Rams Offense vs. Cardinals Defense: The Rams still have one of the better offenses talent-wise in the NFL. But they haven't always played like it; last week is an excellent example. Jared Goff can't play like he played last week, or the Rams will lose this game; it's as simple as that. We are especially thinking of turnovers here, although the offense did not have a good match as a group. The Cardinals are without their best pass rusher in Chandler Jones, but they can still pressure the quarterback, having racked up three sacks in each of their last two games.
Meanwhile, the Rams offensive line had an off week against the 49ers after mostly playing well this season. There is a growing belief around the league that Jared Goff doesn't handle pressure very well. In fairness, no quarterback likes it, but Goff needs to either throw the ball away or take a sack rather than trying to be some magician when he's under pressure. A disturbing amount of Goff turnovers over the past couple of seasons have come because he didn't secure the ball when a defender has his hands on him. That needs to change.
Goff will need to keep his eye out for safety Budda Baker, a multi-talented playmaker on defense. Baker, much like the Seahawks Jamal Adams, can rush the passer, play up in the box like an extra linebacker, or make plays in coverage, including his fair share of interceptions.
Rams wideout Cooper Kupp will likely battle Cardinals corner, Byron Murphy, although Kupp could see Baker as well. We think Murphy will line up in the slot vs. Kupp, with fellow corner Patrick Peterson playing outside against Rams receiver Robert Woods for the most part. When Kupp plays well, the Rams seem to win. He only had 41 yards last week against the Niners. He needs to do better against Arizona.
Both of these units tend to be unpredictable. We'll check the box for the Rams, but it's close.
Rams Defense vs. Arizona Offense: There are a couple of fascinating matchups on this side of the ball, including an expected duel between arguably the best wide receiver and best cornerback in the game. No single trade in the offseason had as much impact on the league as the Cardinals acquiring wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans via a trade.
Meanwhile, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been enjoying a stellar season, including clearly getting the better of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in a win a couple of weeks ago. The Kyler Murray to Hopkins connection has been one of the best in the league this season, and Ramsey needs to keep Hopkins under control if the Rams are to win this game.
Speaking of Murray, he's looking like one of the game's rising stars, a genuine dual-threat who can beat you with his arms or with his legs. He has 19 passing touchdowns and ten rushing touchdowns coming into this game, and you could argue that he is Lamar Jackson with a better arm. That's high praise considering Jackson was the league MVP last season.
The Rams linebacking corps, in particular, needs to be disciplined and do their jobs. That means the outside linebackers need to set the edge while inside linebackers Kenny Young and Troy Reeder maintain their lane discipline and don't get out of position.
Of course, there is always the little matter of a confident Aaron Donald upfront. Donald has had some of his best games against the Seahawks Russell Wilson, a player with a similar skill set to Murray. Donald is likely to see a lot of Cardinals guard J.R. Sweezy. Donald and Sweezy's became familiar with each other when Sweezy played for the Seattle Seahawks. Donald has mostly gotten the better of Sweezy in the past. No quarterback, even one as mobile as Murray, likes to see inside pressure, especially when A.D is applying it.
The Cardinals will be without future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who is on COVID-19 restriction. But they still have plenty of other weapons, and the Rams secondary had better come to play on Sunday.
This game will strength against strength. We'll rate it as a tossup, and whichever team wins this battle will likely win the game, assuming the Rams don't get too generous with turnovers on the other side of the ball.
Special Teams: One of the few bright spots to come out of the Rams loss last week was the solid work of placekicker Matt Gay. He at least offers some hope that the year-long Rams kicking struggles have come to an end.
The Rams also have the league's best punter in Johnny Hekker. But the Cardinal's Andy Lee is no slouch either. And Arizona placekicker Zane Gonzales is a heady veteran who has faced pressure situations and come through more often than not. The Rams seem to be showing some overall improvement in special teams, but Arizona gets the edge here.
Prediction: The oddsmakers say Los Angeles by 2.5, but the Rams are so inconsistent that you can never be sure what you will get. If they can limit turnovers and score some points, they should win, but you never know with Jared Goff. Or even Sean McVay. The Rams coach is an excellent play-caller and play designer, but he can also be stubborn and overly pass-happy at times. Our advice for anyone tempted to bet on this game is "don't do it."
But for entertainment purposes only…
Rams 30 Cardinals 27
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