Rams vs. Cardinals: A look at how the teams match up
When Rams have the ball
The Rams’ offense wants to repeat or improve upon the performance it produced against the Cardinals in a 34-7 victory Dec. 1. After a string of shaky performances, quarterback Jared Goff broke out by passing for 424 yards and two touchdowns. Goff has passed for 19 touchdowns, with a career-high 16 interceptions. Goff and tight end Tyler Higbee have developed a connection that resulted in four consecutive 100-yard receiving performances by Higbee. Receiver Robert Woods has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive season. Running back Todd Gurley rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown in 19 carries against the Cardinals four weeks ago. Rookie running back Darrell Henderson might have played a large role in this finale but suffered a season-ending ankle injury last Saturday in a defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. So look for Malcolm Brown to get extra opportunities. The offensive line must protect Goff from edge rusher Chandler Jones, who has an NFL-best 19 sacks — 2½ more than second-place Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jones had four sacks and forced two fumbles in a 27-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, the Cardinals’ second victory in a row. Safety Budda Baker is the leading tackler for a defense that ranks second to last in the NFL.
Jared Goff and the Rams have enjoyed many great moments at the Coliseum over the last four seasons, but their final game won’t be a playoff contest.
When Cardinals have the ball
Quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, is completing a successful rookie season under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. Murray has passed for 3,397 yards and 18 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He has rushed for 544 yards and four touchdowns. Murray is listed as questionable because of a hamstring injury. If he does not play, Brett Hundley could start in his spot. Running back Kenyan Drake rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Seahawks. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Famer, has a team-best 71 receptions for 759 yards and four touchdowns. This could be the final game with the Rams for several members of the defense. Coach Sean McVay has said he would evaluate all staff members at the end of the season. Coordinator Wade Phillips said last week that he was aware of rumors that he might not be retained. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey will not play because of a knee injury suffered against the 49ers. Nickell Robey-Coleman, rookie David Long and Dont’e Deayon will play in his spot opposite Darious Williams. If linebacker Clay Matthews records two sacks, the Rams would finish with three players with 10 or more sacks, including lineman Aaron Donald, who has 12½, and edge rusher Dante Fowler, who has 11½.
Starting inside linebacker Cory Littleton, an impending free agent, could be one of several Rams to become financially driven roster casualties.
When they kick
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has made 23 of 31 field-goal attempts. Punter Johnny Hekker is averaging 47.9 yards per kick. Kick returner Nsimba Webster was in concussion protocol this week but is expected to be cleared. Zane Gonzalez has made 30 of 34 field-goal attempts for the Cardinals, including two in the victory over the Seahawks. He also had an attempt blocked. Former Ram Pharoh Cooper averages 22.4 yards per kickoff return and 7.6 yards per punt return.
Gary Klein’s prediction
McVay is counting on players to play for pride and a winning record to cap a disappointing season. The Cardinals are seeking to roll into 2020 coming off three consecutive victories. Pride might not prevail, but the Rams’ talent should.
RAMS 31, CARDINALS 20
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