Sean McVay’s Rams have dominated the Cardinals. Will the trend continue?
The situation is different, some circumstances concerningly similar.
Last season, the Rams traveled to State Farm Stadium for a late-season game against the Arizona Cardinals with a lineup ravaged by COVID-19, a scenario exasperated when star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbee were declared out hours before kickoff.
The Rams still rallied and won, helping propel them on their run to a Super Bowl title.
On Sunday, the Rams return for an early-season NFC West opener with a roster depleted this week by injuries and a suspension.
“It almost feels like COVID-esque,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Matthew Stafford looks to overcome his interception issues as the Rams look to pick up an important early-season win against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Rams (1-1) spent the week making a flurry of moves to bolster the offensive line, and the tight end, running back, cornerback and edge-rushing positions.
“A lot of moving parts,” McVay said, harking to last season, when the NFL moved a Rams game against the Seattle Seahawks from Sunday to Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues. “I can’t remember a time other than when they had to move the game … that we’ve ever had this much going on, especially before we’ve played our third game.
“I mean, holy heck.”
McVay has enjoyed overwhelming success against the Cardinals. He is 10-1 in the regular season and playoffs, the only defeat a 37-20 loss at SoFi Stadium in the fourth game last season.
That Cardinals’ victory appeared to announce quarterback Kyler Murray’s arrival as a star who could lead his team deep into the playoffs. Murray played nearly without error, completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 39 yards.
But the Cardinals faded down the stretch, losing to the Rams at home and again in a listless performance in a wild-card playoff game.
In July, Murray signed a five-year, $230.5-million extension that includes $103 million in guarantees. He then weathered a controversy about a so-called independent study clause in the contract that reportedly required him to study film for four hours during game weeks. The clause was thereafter removed, according to reports.
The Kansas City Chiefs routed the Cardinals in their opener. Yet last Sunday, with the help of a defense that shut down the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half, Murray led the Cardinals back from a 20-0 deficit to a 29-23 overtime victory.
During a two-point conversion scramble, Murray covered nearly 85 yards on a play that lasted more than 20 seconds, according to the NFL’s Next Gen stats.
“He doesn’t see anything, he’s taking off, so that’s been the thing,” Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “If you let him kind of run around and make crazy plays, come off your guys, not only does he do that well, but the team ignites off plays like that.”
When Murray breaks loose, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury marvels along with everyone else.
“I’m a fan at that point really,” Kingsbury said. “It’s out my control.”
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris likened the challenge of playing against Murray to tackling a young Michael Vick, the former star quarterback who played most of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Morris said, “and that’s a team event, tackling Kyler Murray.”
The Rams are the betting favorite heading into their Sunday NFL Week 3 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, but where is the smart money on the game?
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald has had success against Murray.
With the Rams shorthanded at State Farm Stadium last season, Donald took over the game, sacking Murray three times for 35 yards in losses.
“Every week, we get that mind set to try to find a way to dominate a game and you get opportunities to do that,” Donald said. “Just took advantage of it.”
The Cardinals have their own Hall of Fame-bound defensive lineman.
J.J. Watt, like Donald, is a three-time NFL defensive player of the year. Last season, Watt’s first with Arizona, the Cardinals were 7-0 before he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him until the playoffs. The Cardinals lost six of their last 10 regular-season games.
“His leadership and guys not wanting to let him down when they’re on the field with him is pretty special to watch,” Kingsbury said.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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