Rams-Cardinals matchup comes with intrigue and dire need for a win

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass from the pocket against the Buccaneers.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford might not be able to play against the Cardinals on Sunday if he doesn’t clear concussion protocol.
(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

For a midseason matchup between teams with only three victories, Sunday’s NFC West game between the Rams and Arizona Cardinals features plenty of intrigue.

Will Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford clear concussion protocol to play and possibly keep the defending Super Bowl champions from sliding out of postseason contention?

After suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice, will Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray play — and perhaps salvage his team’s season?


If Stafford and Murray remain sidelined, the game will pit Rams backup John Wolford against Cardinals backup Colt McCoy.

Not exactly showtime at SoFi Stadium.

Yet at this point, Rams coach Sean McVay and his players could care less about how anything looks.

The Rams could face quite a challenge against the Arizona Cardinals, especially if Matthew Stafford doesn’t clear concussion protocol and John Wolford starts.

Nov. 11, 2022

All they want is a victory.

“We ain’t got too much more room to keep losing now,” star defensive lineman Aaron Donald said.

After Tom Brady sent them to a last-minute defeat at Tampa Bay last Sunday, the Rams’ record dropped to 3-5. It is the first time in McVay’s five-plus seasons that his team has been two games under .500.

In last season’s playoffs against the Buccaneers, Stafford drove the Rams 63 yards in less than a minute for a last-second, game-winning field goal. Last Sunday, after the defense stopped Brady with a goal-line stand in the final minutes, the offense failed to manage 10 yards for a first down to run out the clock, giving Brady another opportunity for victory.


Afterward, Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey called out the offense for failing to close out the game.

Teammates and coaches this week lauded Ramsey for not pulling punches.

“He’s in the right mind set to say certain things,” Donald said. “I don’t think he means it in a way to try to pull the team apart. If anything, he’s trying to bring guys together. …

“I’m pretty sure he just said something that was on his chest that he tried to put out there to [say], ‘We got to try to find a way to win.’”

Coming off their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams face another stiff test against Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. Who’s the favorite?

Nov. 11, 2022

Said defensive coordinator Raheem Morris: “He talking to his guys … he’s supporting his guys. I think the way he shows that support sometimes is brutal honesty.”

Ramsey, a seventh-year pro, said he always has received support from teammates for voicing his opinion. Coaches with the Rams support it more than when he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ramsey said.

“Some people are scared of confrontation sometimes and talking about the tough things that need to be talked about and things that need to be said,” he said. “But around here, that’s something that people know we need to embrace, and we actually are going to embrace it and try to move forward.”

The Rams trail the Seattle Seahawks (6-3) and San Francisco 49ers (4-4) in the NFC West. The Cardinals (3-6) are in last place.

The Rams still have two games left against the Seahawks, but they were swept by the 49ers. The Rams defeated the Cardinals, 20-12, on Sept. 25 in Glendale, Ariz.

Now the Rams will attempt to beat them again, possibly with Wolford leading the way for the second time in three years.

In the 2020 season finale, McVay started Wolford in place of injured Jared Goff. The Rams won, 18-7 to clinch a playoff spot.

“It was a big game,” Wolford said this week. “Obviously, as an undrafted player, these games mean a lot, and I was just glad we were able to get a win and get into the playoffs.… It was a good one, a good memory.”

Rams quarterback John Wolford throws a pass with opponents nearby.
Rams quarterback John Wolford throws a pass from the pocket against the Cardinals last season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Wolford showed resiliency in that game. The Cardinals intercepted his first pass, but he settled down and made no other major mistakes. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards and rushed for 56 yards in six carries.

“We rallied around him and he ended up making some plays,” tight end Tyler Higbee said, adding that if Wolford plays Sunday, “He’ll be ready to go.”

Wolford said he was not feeling added pressure.

“There’s always pressure in the NFL at the quarterback position to perform no matter what the record is,” he said. “So, if I’m called upon, then there’ll be pressure and I gotta handle that and do a good job so we can win.”

Wolford’s running ability potentially gives McVay and offensive coordinator Liam Coen some added options. Yet the last time Wolford started — in a wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks the week after his performance against the Cardinals — he suffered a neck injury in the first quarter when he was tackled on a designed running play.

Wolford said he wants coaches to utilize the entire playbook.

“I’m going to compete to the best of my ability and do everything I can to win,” he said. “So if that means running, or that means throwing, or whatever they ask me to do — I’m going to do it.”