Rams vs. Cardinals matchups: Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray set to square off

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates his touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp on Sept. 26, 2021.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp during last Sunday’s 34-24 win over Tampa Bay. Stafford has nine touchdown passes to one interception this season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Breaking down how the Rams (3-0) and the Arizona Cardinals (3-0) match up heading into their game at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be carried on Fox (Channel 11).

When Rams have the ball: Matthew Stafford is playing as well or better than any quarterback in the NFL, putting him front and center in the early MVP discussion. Stafford has passed for nine touchdowns, with one interception. He passed for 343 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as coach Sean McVay finally turned loose deep threat DeSean Jackson and worked in tight end Tyler Higbee. Cooper Kupp, who has scored two touchdowns in each of the last two games, has an NFL-best five touchdowns and 367 yards receiving. He is tied for the league lead with 25 catches. Running back Darrell Henderson is coming back from a rib injury, which sidelined him last week, so look for Sony Michel to start again and continue to provide a power-running presence. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth anchors an offensive line that has given up only three sacks. The line will be challenged by a Cardinals front that includes Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt. Jones began the season with five sacks against the Tennessee Titans. Watt, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, has yet to record a sack. Safety Budda Baker leads a secondary that has helped the Cardinals force seven turnovers.

Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, like the Rams’ Matthew Stafford, is off to a great start. Keeping the mobile Murray in check will be difficult.

Oct. 2, 2021


When Cardinals have the ball: Third-year pro Kyler Murray appears to have a full grasp of coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, which is tied for the league lead in scoring. Murray has passed for seven touchdowns, with four interceptions, and ranks third in the league with 1,005 yards passing. He also has rushed for three touchdowns. Murray has an array of options, including receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green and Rondale Moore, all of whom average at least 12 yards per catch. Running back Chase Edmonds has rushed for two touchdowns and also has 16 receptions. James Conner has rushed for two touchdowns. Lineman Aaron Donald and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd have two sacks apiece for a Rams defense that gave up 432 yards passing to Tom Brady but did not give up a touchdown pass. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey continues to make his presence felt in the secondary and in opponent’s backfields. Outside linebacker Justin Hollins is sidelined following surgery to repair a torn chest muscle, so second-year pro Terrell Lewis, Obo Okoronkwo and rookie Ernest Jones could rotate opposite Floyd. Linebacker Kenny Young had a team-best 10 tackles against the Buccaneers and has had a hand in forcing several turnovers.

When they kick: Coordinator Joe DeCamillis made good on his pledge to improve special teams after the debacle in Indianapolis. Johnny Hekker put three punts inside the 12-yard line against the Buccaneers. Kicker Matt Gay has made all six field-goal attempts. Matt Prater has made four of six field-goal attempts for the Cardinals. Andy Lee averages 45.6 net yards per punt.

Gary Klein’s prediction: The Rams might be prone for a letdown after their big victory over the Buccaneers, but until the Cardinals prove they can end McVay’s domination of them (8-0), the Rams appear on their way to a 4-0 start.