Sunday 9.25PM Preview: Cardinals out to beat Rams for the first time since 2016 season

This week the Los Angeles Rams welcome their NFC West rivals in the Arizona Cardinals, for the first of two regular-season games this year.

The Rams were too strong for the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday in a thrilling encounter at SoFi Stadium while Arizona haven’t beaten the Rams in 1,734 days, a stretch dating back to New Years Day 2017, so Week 17 of the 2016 season.

They’ve met eight times since then and Kliff Kingsbury will be determined to get one over good friend Sean McVay, whose Rams look like the best side in the entire league. Win this game, and Arizona look like the serious contenders they’re supposed to be. Lose, and there’s a problem.

Hollywood’s finest

Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams put on a show last Sunday Night in front of many famous faces. They came out 34-24 winners after getting a red hot start. Matthew Stafford threw for 4 TD passes, whilst Aaron Donald and Kenny Young had standout performances on defense.

Sony Michel was indeed the lead back in the absence of Darrell Henderson (ribs), and played okay, receiving 20 carries out of 22 possible for 67 yards against an elite run defense. Henderson is expected to be back however, so it’ll be interesting to see how the load is shared. Ahead of the game I pointed out that Cooper Kupp doesn’t get the credit he deserves, so I was happy to see him score another 2 TD’s. That’s something that may not happen on Sunday, as he’ll have one of the best slot corners in football, Byron Murphy, to contend with.

DeSean Jackson was the brightest star in a record-breaking performance. Jackson equalled Lance Alworth’s record for the most 75+ yard touchdown receptions and showed the first real flashes that the Rams were hoping for when he made the switch from Philadelphia in free agency. Los Angeles has too many weapons to take away so someone’s going to have the chance to make plays. Last week he took his opportunity. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up this week.

Are the Cardinals legit?

The clock is ticking on the Arizona Cardinals’ winning window. Kyler Murray’s going to get paid soon, and Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat. They’ve had their moments under this current regime, but have never been able to get to the next level. That being said, this season has started brightly.

Kyler is looking the best he’s ever looked, which you’d expect in Year 3, establishing himself among the best QB’s in the league, and the defense is much improved. In fact, he’s probably my favourite QB to watch right now. I’m constantly amazed by the way his tiny frame dances around the pocket trying to make plays so effortlessly, before taking off if there’s nothing downfield. He’s a playmaker.

Like the Rams, Arizona have weapons on tap. There’s obviously DeAndre Hopkins, but don’t forget their first-round draft pick, Rondale Moore, who’s lightning quick, and Christian Kirk, who has started the season especially strong. He leads the Cardinals in receiving yards (239) and has already racked up 5 20+ yard receptions and scored 2 TD’s.

Those numbers have amassed to a 90.5 PFF total offense grade, which puts him second of all eligible receivers in 2021. I still don’t trust them to win when it matters though, maybe a statement game will change that.

Key battles

Let’s start in the trenches. The LA Rams offensive line were excellent against the Bucs, somehow eliminating the talented Tampa pass rush. Stafford had plenty of time to throw on the majority of his dropbacks and was only sacked once all game. Every player on that Rams line is ranked within the top 20 at their position by PFF and all have grades over 72.0. Chandler Jones humiliated All-Pro tackle Taylor Lewan a couple of weeks ago but has failed to make any real impact since. This duel is crucial to the final outcome of the game.

I’m intrigued to see how the Rams use Jalen Ramsey on Sunday. He’s been utilised a lot more in the slot this season, but DeAndre Hopkins is on the outside, and he’s a huge difference-maker who needs slowing down.

Tampa Bay couldn’t run the ball at all against Aaron Donald and co last week. Tom Brady was their leading rusher. I repeat: Tom Brady was their leading rusher. That may mean James Conner and Chase Edmonds have a difficult day for the Cardinals.

Predictions

Part of me wants to pick Arizona, I really like some pieces, and have been impressed by Kyler Murray this season. I would do against most teams, maybe even the Chiefs at the moment. But these Los Angeles Rams are so talented, well-coached, and have started out so well that I’m really struggling to do that. Most division games are close, so it could go either way. History tells me it’ll be the Rams though, so I’m going to pick them. Although from a neutral’s perspective, I really do hope I’m proven wrong.

Los Angeles 32, Arizona 26

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