Rams can’t afford to underestimate Cardinals and quarterback Kyler Murray

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray looks to pass.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray presents another challenge for the Rams in their quest to stay in the NFC playoff hunt.
(Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson beat the Rams in October with his trademark escape moves behind the line of scrimmage and his pinpoint passing. Last Monday, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens artfully dissected the Rams with designed runs, scrambles and passes that rivaled Wilson’s.

Now, here comes Kyler Murray.

If the Rams are to keep alive their slim playoff chances, they will have to control the Arizona Cardinals’ rookie dual-threat quarterback Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

“He can run, he can throw, he does it all,” Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam said.


The Rams are coming off a 45-6 rout by the Ravens, a game in which Jackson showed why he is the frontrunner for the NFL most-valuable-player award. The loss dropped the Rams’ record to 6-5 and once again left them teetering on elimination from playoff contention.

The Rams probably have to win all of their remaining games — and see other wild-card contenders falter — to gain a third consecutive playoff appearance.

The Rams, however, cannot look ahead, running back Todd Gurley said.

“Keep looking at all five,” he said, “and that’s how you lose all five.”


Said safety Eric Weddle: “You can’t win out if you can’t win one.”

Based on the Cardinals’ 3-7-1 record, the game on the surface appears a mismatch, even with the Rams struggling.

But under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals are making progress. Two weeks ago at Levi’s Stadium, they led during most of a 36-26 defeat by the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers.


“As a whole,” Kingsbury said, “I feel like we’ve come a long way.”

Murray, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, is leading the charge.

He is completing nearly 65% of his passes, 14 for touchdowns, with five interceptions. But he has had only one pass intercepted in his last seven games.

Against the 49ers and their No. 1-ranked defense, the Cardinals led 16-10 at halftime and 19-17 at the end of three quarters. Murray’s 22-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes 30 seconds left gave his team a 26-23 lead before the 49ers came back for the victory.


Rams coach Sean McVay noted that Murray can deliver passes from all angles — and frustrate defenses with his running ability.

“He gets around the corner quickly,” McVay said, “He’s got great acceleration, he’s got a great feel for how to manipulate and maneuver through traffic while avoiding taking those hits.”

That sounds a lot like Jackson.

Against the Rams, the second-year pro passed for five touchdowns and rushed for 95 yards at the Coliseum. He guided the Ravens to touchdowns on their first six possessions and dominated a defense that had been stout the previous four games.


Rams coach Sean McVay, front, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Rams coach Sean McVay, front, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, left, understand the importance of keeping Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in check.
(Justin Setterfield / Getty Images)

“We needed a better plan and we didn’t have it,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “That’s my fault.”

Kingsbury downplayed comparisons between Jackson and Murray.

“Baltimore is a completely different style of offense and how they built that thing -- with that power-running game and the three tight ends and different things that really accentuate who Lamar is as a runner,” Kingsbury said during a teleconference. “He’s developed as a passer, and as a total package and has been phenomenal all year.


“Kyler’s still learning our system. We’re not as much of a run-the-quarterback based offense.”

At 5-feet-10 and 207 pounds, Murray is more “Russell Wilson-esque,” Ebukam said.

In a 30-29 defeat by the Seahawks on Oct. 3, Wilson passed for four touchdowns and rushed eight times for 32 yards.

The Rams play Wilson and the Seahawks at the Coliseum next week — and the Rams could use some help from them before they arrive.


Although Jalen Ramsey did a fine job covering the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald during their last encounter, the Rams’ corner respects receiver’s talent

Barring a complete collapse, the 49ers (10-1) and Seahawks (9-2) are on their way to the playoffs. The Rams are chasing the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) in the wild-card race, so a Seahawks victory over the Vikings on Monday night could aid the Rams.

Of course, the Rams first must defeat the Cardinals.

Before the season, the Rams said they would not be prone to the malaise that has affected so many other teams the season after losing in the Super Bowl.


But another defeat would leave the Rams with a .500 record with four games left.

“It certainly hasn’t been what we want,” McVay said, “but we’ve got an opportunity to try to right the ship with the way that we play this week.”

Rams quarterback Jared Goff did not throw a touchdown pass in November. He hopes to break that slump when the 6-5 Rams visit the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 1.