Rams vs. Cardinals: A look at how the teams match up
Breaking down how the Rams (6-5) and the Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1) match up heading into Sunday’s game at State Farm Stadium:
When Rams have the ball
If this does not serve as a breakout opportunity for the Rams offense, perhaps nothing will. The Cardinals rank last in the NFL in passing defense, second to last in total defense and third to last in scoring defense. The Rams, and their coach and play-caller Sean McVay, need all the advantages they can get after failing to score a touchdown in a 45-6 rout by the Baltimore Ravens. It was the latest in a string of substandard performances by the offense. The calendar has turned to December, and quarterback Jared Goff has to be happy about that. Goff said last week that the massive contract extension he signed before the season was not causing him to play with extra pressure, but Goff did not throw a touchdown pass in November. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in three games, the longest stretch of his NFL career. With five games remaining, Goff has passed for 11 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. A week after carrying the ball a season-high 25 times and gaining 97 yards against the Chicago Bears, Todd Gurley carried only six times for 22 yards against the Ravens. The Cardinals, under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, run a 3-4 scheme that features edge rushers Chandler Jones, who has 12½ sacks and Terrell Suggs, who has 5½. Safety Budda Baker and perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson lead the vulnerable secondary.
The Rams have struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks, and Arizona Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray presents another challenge in a virtual must-win game.
When Cardinals have the ball
Quarterback Kyler Murray, the No.1 pick in the draft, is making progress under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Murray has competed nearly 67% of his passes, 14 for touchdowns, with five interceptions. He also has rushed for 418 yards and three touchdowns. In the Cardinals’ last game on Nov. 17, Murray passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 36-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Murray’s favorite target has been receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a 16th-year pro who ranks second behind Jerry Rice in career receptions and yards receiving and sixth in NFL history with 119 touchdown receptions. Fitzgerald has 55 catches for 593 yards and three touchdowns this season. Running back David Johnson and receiver Christian Kirk also have three touchdown catches for an offense that ranks 20th in the NFL. The Rams defense probably did not mind having a short week after getting picked apart and run over by quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. A unit that had been stout the previous four games gave up touchdowns on the first six possessions and appeared befuddled against the run and the pass. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year, made no solo tackles and assisted on only one.
When they kick
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker will see a familiar face awaiting their kicks. Pharoh Cooper, a 2017 Pro Bowl selection while playing for the Rams, returns kickoffs and punts for the Cardinals. Cooper, released by the Rams during the 2018 season after coming off an ankle injury, averages 23.2 yards per kickoff return and 6.3 yards per punt return.
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Rams are facing almost certain elimination from playoff contention if they cannot defeat the 3-7-1 Cardinals. That should be enough motivation for a team that got embarrassed by the Ravens in a “Monday Night Football” showcase less than a week before.
RAMS 28, CARDINALS 20
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.